Thursday, 27 December 2012

Clarke, Watson & Johnson Too Good

Clarke made 106 - his 5th
hundred for 2012
Australia strengthened their hold on the second Test against Sri Lanka being played in Melbourne but at no stage shredded their opponents. The Sri Lankans performed well under trying circumstances, having lost their wicket keeper yesterday and then opening bowler Chanaka Welegedara early in the first session with a hamstring strain.

Despite the extra pressure put on the other quicks, Shaminda Eranga and Dhammika Prassad, the Sri Lankans kept the Australian batsmen in check and at no stage received the expected hiding that the conditions indicated. Even though Michael Clarke and Shane Watson batted through the first session, the scoring was restrained by accurate bowling.

Just before lunch, two chances were lost in the one over from Rangara Herath. First Clarke (54) advanced down the track, only to be stranded but amongst the tangle of pads and general chaos, Kumar Sangakkara was unable to take the stumping chance. Inexplicably, Watson (58) was dropped at slip by Mahela Jayawardene just three balls later.

Herath, who bowled superbly all day, would come no closer in the 36 overs he sent down on the day but kept all the batsmen under pressure. It is one of the oddities of cricket that the best bowler took no wickets.

Watson hooks (83) and is caught
at deep square leg by Samaraweera 
When Clarke and Watson were finally broken, three wickets fell for only 4 runs in 18 deliveries. Eranga and Prassad bowling with renewed vigour and a new cherry put the skids under the Australians. After raising his fifth hundred for the year and setting a new benchmark for Australian run aggregates in a calendar year, Clark edged Eranga to Jayawardene at second slip and was gone. Watson, self destructing again within sight of a hundred, pulled a ball straight to deep square leg, who only had to stand and wait. Watson at no stage looked the fluent player of old but did at least make the most of being missed twice. He still looks to be a player down on confidence and out of form. Wade was the third to fall, hooking Prassad to Eranga at fine leg where he let it run up his arms and caught it with his elbows.

Herath took a screamer
The last session was Australia's best, adding 108 and all the credit belonging to Mitchell Johnson who played like a top order batsman, linking his talent with the bat to a performance a long time after he last drank at that bar. Johnson is a better batsman than bowler but so often forgets the fact. During the last session he complied a very good half century, outshining even Mike Hussey who was troubled by Herath with the ball and even more in the field, where the rotund little spinner held a one handed diving and rolling catch deep at long on after getting out of position. Peter Siddle batted for more than an hour with Johnson while 58 were added and was only undone by a brilliant grab to his left at second slip by Jayawardene. There is probably no better slipper in world cricket.

Johnson made 73x
Sri Lanka ended the second day out of this game and facing a heavy defeat. Already 284 behind, the chances of making Australia bat again look remote, despite the quality of the batting surface and accumulated run scoring experience in their top six. If they do lose comfortably, it won't be through lack of effort. The loss of Prassana Jayawardene has been a crucial blow, as Sanagakkara, despite his ability and experience, was out of sorts behind the stumps. Having to restrain a rampant Australian batting line up with one less bowler was a tall order and yet they did so but only with limited success. They can claim one major mark not achieved by South Africa or India (among others) this year. When Clark was dismissed for 106, it was the only time this year he has failed to turn three figures into a double century.

There will be precious good news at the MCG tomorrow for Sri Lanka despite the quality of their effort today.