|Answers? What was the question?|
Ask Alastair Cook.
The loss in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Pallekele was marked as much by poor performances from the number one side in the world, as it was by good ones by the far away number seven. Smith went into the series having never lost a Test as skipper, although the pedigree of his opponents and the friendliness of the venues have aided his lack of failure. Only one of the four series he has tossed the coined in has been played overseas and that was just across the ditch earlier this year.
He is a player who engages in mortal combat with his opponent and that aggression has ramped up since he let the white ants loose in his predecessors kit bag and became King Cricket. His opponent in Sri Lanka, Angelo Mathews, plays the game hard but leads from within the group, rather than charging along in front and checking over his shoulder. Its a crucial difference, as is the fact that despite continued failures in England, Smith took the reigns of a successful side. Mathews took over with ratings on the slide and mostly newbees as team mates. It will be interesting to see which group of players is prepared to follow closely and how much that reflects on them or their skipper.
That said, this was a poor performance by the Australians and underlines again their growing reputation as tourists without the skills or often the temperament for a fight. Taken away from the true turf of home, the batting techniques of their top six fail too often to cope with the ball which deviates. Steeple the bounce and the Baggy Green boys lick their lips but make it move sideways through the air or off the pitch and they have jelly knee replacements. Smith used the press conference to offer the same platitudes as Michael Clarke had in similar circumstances - "we have to do better; we let ourselves down; I misjudged my shot". We've heard it all before.
|Smith stumped in the first innings|
At Pallekele, a near unbeatable position after day one was turned into a likely defeat just two days later. At Test level, you don't roll your opponents for 117 on the first day and lose the game. You just don't. Ever. The batting from the Australians was poor. Warner and Khwaja threw their innings away, twice; Smith had a brain snap in the first innings when set and then lost concentration in the second; Voges, Marsh and Burns don't have the skills required under these condition. As for the rest, well as much fuss as you want to make over batting for thirty overs and scoring 4 runs in search of saving the game, aren't they the skills you need in sides opting for second, less desirable options and in the end, why was the Australia lower order placed in that position?
In between the Australian innings, Kausal Mendis played a spankingly good innings. In his seven Tests as one of the replacements being tried after Sangakkara and Jayawardene retired, he had shown some promise but not converted it to scores that would change the course of Test matches. He fixed that here. Like the best Test batsmen, he played shots and he defended - all according to need and situation. The Australians kept bowling at his strengths and he kept taking advantage. It wasn't quite as sweet as the 192 Sangakkara took from the Australians nine years ago in Hobart as he blazed away in defeat ... but it was close.
|Mendis made a stunning 176|
Lyon deserves special mention. He's a courageous, engaging cricketer. No one has been a harder trier in the last fifty years of Australia cricket. Australia's leading wicket taking off spinner. He has turned himself into a super fielder. That's it. Drop him. He's there to take wickets in the clutch moments and yet, across his career, he so rarely has. For three years now he has bowled the wrong line and has been milked by international batsmen like Farmer Browns cows. You cannot bowl at middle stump as an off spinner because even minnows and beginners - it was proved again here - will keep turning the ball behind square for the single, rotating the strike and easing the pressure. Bowling around the wicket only makes it worse, because lbw drops out of the equation. Look at the statistics. Are first slip fieldsmen grabbing bags full of catches from the ball coming straight on around the wicket? A bowler who bowls the wrong line, averages nearly 33 after fifty five Tests and only takes a wicket every 10 overs should not still be featured as one of the four picked as Australia's best chance to take the twenty wickets needed to win a Test match.
Too many questions and not many answers in sight. Warner will get better - he always does. Khawja plays spin well and will again but his game has never been about his technical skill but always about his attitude. He has enough success as a Test player to want more. Smith isn't silky and class but he's a fighter and he's one player in the team who will hurt and start swinging. It's a matter of how smart he is in those reprisals. Burns, Voges and Marsh - nothing changes. Not up to it in these conditions. Holland for O'Keefe looks the natural progression. Holland is just a steady trundler at first class level but despite their success at Pallekele, the Sri Lankans aren't world class. The quicks were impressive and will still do early damage but Lyon is the key. Is it to late to take him to a locksmith and have new cuts placed on him?
If so, my shout.