Australia’s tour to Sri Lanka has been a roaring success already following the special scenes in Colombo of locals dressed in yellow to thank the visitors for touring during a desperate time in their country’s history.
Sri Lanka winning the ODI series provided moments of joy for the home supporters, but there is a sense among Australia that the real stuff starts now. There were no ODI Super League points up for grabs and the visitors had injuries galore, although they were thoroughly outplayed by the hosts. But there are vital World Test Championship points at stake in the two Tests in Galle, as is Australia’s Asian reputation. They currently sits top of the WTC table while Sri Lanka occupies fourth with just 12 months remaining before the final. A 2-0 series sweep, either way, would have significant ramifications.
Sri Lanka are a side on the rise having beaten Bangladesh away in their most recent series in May under new coach Chris Silverwood and their performance in the ODI series proves that the belief is building. But they were uncompetitive against India away in early March. They won three of the six home Tests in 2021 against West Indies and Bangladesh but lost 2-0 to England in back-to-back Tests at Galle.
(Last five completed matches; most recent first)
Sri Lanka WDLLW
In the spotlight
Lasith Embuldeniya has a good record in Galle having taken 32 wickets at 26.15 including a 10-wicket haul against England. But he enters this series with the spotlight on him after a disappointing tour of Bangladesh. It might be unfair to compare a 25-year-old who has played 16 Tests to a bowler like Herath who took 433 Test wickets. But Australia’s record against left-arm spin since 2016 is damning as they average just 21.36 as a unit, the worst of all the major nations in that time. Jayawickrama is the other option in the squad, but the responsibility will fall on Embuldeniya’s shoulders to cause some chaos among Australia’s batters.
Sri Lanka appeared to be heading towards a debut for legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay as one of three frontline quicks, leaving the pace bowling to Asitha Fernando. Pathum Nissanka, who impressed in the ODIs, will return at the top of the order after missing the Bangladesh series due to injury
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Angela Mathews, 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Lasith Embuldeniya, 10 Asitha Fernando, 11 Kasun Rajitha/Jeffrey Vandersay
Australia look set to pick the same side that won in Pakistan. There was a debate circling around the Australia camp about Mitchell Swepson’s place as the second spinner, with Victoria left-armer Jon Holland being heavily considered despite not playing a Test since 2018 and not being initially selected among six spinners named across Australia’s Test and Australia A squads. But Cummins confirmed on Tuesday that Swepson would play with Holland’s spinning finger not recovering from the A game following a limited preparation. Travis Head will be given until the toss to prove his hamstring has recovered from the strain he suffered in the ODI series. If he doesn’t come up, Glenn Maxwell will play his first Test since 2017 and his first first-class match since 2019.
Australia (possible): 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 David Warner, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head/Glenn Maxwell, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Mitchell Swepson
Pitch and conditions
There will be no surprises in Galle with spin likely to play a huge part. The practice pitches have spun sharply including the ones on the edge of the square. The playing strip has very little grass on it, but the pitches on either side of it have a solid covering of grass which could negate reverse swing if the ball doesn’t get roughed up on the square as quickly as it might do otherwise. It will be hot and humid and it wouldn’t be Sri Lanka in July without some rain around but it’s unlikely there will be many delays over the five days.
Stats and trivia
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo