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Sri Lanka v Australia at Galle
22-26 Sep 1999 (John Polack)

Day1 | Day2 | Day3 | Day4 | Day5

Day1: Absorbing play dominates the start of Second Test

If the quality of the play in the previous battle of this series had been consistently poor, then there could hardly have been a greater contrast on the opening day of the Second Test between Sri Lanka and Australia at the Galle International Stadium today. Following a truly absorbing day's play, during which the advantage oscillated regularly from one team to the other, the home team finds itself positioned at 6/254 - a score which, in itself, reflects the notion that these were six hours of play which featured an excellent struggle between bat and ball throughout.

Effectively putting behind them both the misery of comprehensive defeat in the previous match in Kandy and the debilitating effect of a succession of injury problems, Australia's bowlers have probably ensured that it is their team which has claimed a slight edge by the end of the day. Nevertheless, this was a tough, engrossing day's cricket and was one during which wickets never came particularly easily. Again, they owe a significant debt to their champion leg spinner, Shane Warne (3/29 from 25 overs), who looked today to be regaining much of the control and confidence that was evident during the closing stages of his celebrated recent World Cup campaign. After the home team had seized the upper hand in the middle of the afternoon as it moved to a score of 3/193, Warne struck two vital blows, removing Mahela Jayawardene (46) and Arjuna Ranatunga (10) as each set about supporting Aravinda de Silva (60) who, all the while, was patiently anchoring the innings at the other end. Much in the same fashion as he had done just before lunch when he removed Marvan Atapattu (29) after an association of 80 with Russel Arnold (50), Warne accordingly brought his team right back into a game that seemed on the verge of potentially slipping away from its grasp.

Having opted to afford his batsmen the chance to make first use of a pitch expected to wear and to deteriorate significantly later in the match, Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya could not have wished for a worse start (either individually or collectively) to this Test. Allied with the Australians' inclusion in their team of Steve Waugh just twelve days after the skipper had fractured his nose in four places, Jayasuriya's dismissal from the very first ball of the day indeed appeared that it might hand the Australians the major psychological boost which they needed to restore their shaky position in the series. From that moment, though, there was no real repeat of the constant wicket taking which marked the previous contest in Kandy. This was due, in no small part, to the determination of both De Silva (64) and Arnold (50), each of whom batted intelligently during the course of an exhibition when every batsman other than Jayasuriya ventured into double figures.

Indeed, while their cause was not helped by evidence of significant early moisture in the pitch, the presence through the morning of weather conditions sultry enough to encourage substantial movement in the air, and an outfield slowed significantly by recent rain, the home team responded determinedly to that disastrous early setback. For all of that, though, the Sri Lankans will still likely be cursing themselves for their capacity to lose wickets at inopportune moments throughout the day and for their inability to ever really command a position of complete dominance. They can take a significant share of the blame for that reality themselves - Jayawardene and Ranatunga, in particular, both needlessly surrendering their wickets as they heroically but suicidally attempted to club Warne over mid on. Moreover, at the end of a day when discretion always appeared to be a more prudent option than belligerence, they will be left pondering the notion that they did not capitalise at all appropriately on two formidable partnerships - one of 80 between Arnold and Atapattu for the second wicket and another of 93 for the fourth between De Silva and Jayawardene - each of which made a mockery of the general difficulty of the conditions for batting on an already significantly turning pitch.

Day2: Murali ignites SL on another see-sawing day

High scoring has hardly been a trademark of this series, and so it proved again today even when it appeared an inevitability on the second day of the Second Test between Sri Lanka and Australia at the Galle International Stadium. By the end of another gripping, see-sawing six hours of play, the indefatigable Sri Lankan off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan had engineered a brilliant revival from the home team, claiming five wickets in a session and reducing the visitors to the moderate scoreline of 5/188 by stumps (in response to the 296 made by their opponents earlier in proceedings) just when they had looked set to record something substantially superior.

Muralitharan's heroics - which came in the closing session of another gruelling day and at a time when his team was almost on his knees - reignited the complexion of the match and series. On a surface that has offered great encouragement to slow bowlers almost from the outset of this contest, the off spinner varied his flight and the extent of his turn brilliantly, confusing all of the Australians in an exhibition in which he deservedly finished with the outstanding figures of 5/50 from 31 probing overs. The diminutive spinner struck a defining blow thirty minutes after tea when he bowled Greg Blewett (62) as the South Australian advanced and launched a loose cover drive at a conventional off break. Suitably inspired at breaking a long opening stand, he then followed that success by tormenting the remainder of the top and middle order, also claiming the scalps of Justin Langer (7), Mark Waugh (10), Ian Healy (4) - each of whom again failed to find any touch and to ward off the growing number of critics baying for their respective removals from the side - and, perhaps most importantly of all, opener Michael Slater (96) after another long, resolute innings from the New South Welshman.

Prior to the Sri Lankan's wicket taking burst, however, things had seemed completely different. By combining to register Australia's most productive partnership for the opening wicket since as long ago as December 1995, Slater and Blewett had, in truth, seemed to be completely transforming what had previously been a delicately poised match. A perusal of Australia's opening partnerships over recent years reveals a catalogue of failures, but their liaison of 138 runs indeed represented no repeat of that trend. It was never a truly authoritative association (the fact that Blewett again struggled against the slower bowlers and that Slater had to curb his naturally aggressive instincts on a tough batting wicket made it a patient rather than a stylish stand), but it can not be denied that it was one of great import and which may well have crucial ramifications in the final analysis.

Slater, out in the nineties for the sixth time in his Test career, was the more impressive of the two and, despite being dropped twice, probably deserved a century such was the level of application and concentration that he brought to his batting today. Blewett needs also to be commended for his innings was likewise a tribute to his diligence, particularly after his two failures in Kandy. And, whilst they both threw their hands away in the same needless fashion as some of their opponents did yesterday, it is hard to be critical in any way of either. As for their teammates, though, they can not so easily be exonerated. By again failing to overcome Muralitharan, they have consigned their team to potential peril and left the thorny task of restoring the situation when play resumes tomorrow to Steve Waugh (2*) and Ricky Ponting (0*) for far from the first time in recent matches.

Day3: Australia's series spins even further out of control

Although heavy overnight and morning rain ensured that only an abbreviated amount of cricket was possible, Sri Lanka has again made life particularly uncomfortable for a struggling Australian outfit on the third day of the Second Test between the teams at the Galle International Stadium today. Given that it has reached a position of 0/44 in its second innings by stumps (and that it has thereby accumulated an overall lead of 112 runs), the home team indeed looks well set at this point of the match to thwart the home team's best attempts to level this series.

Following a delay of six hours, the day (or, more specifically, those two hours of play that were possible) essentially belonged to Test debutant Rangana Herath (4/97). Having begun his career relatively unimpressively yesterday, the lightly built left arm spinner collected the first four wickets of his career at the top level in quick succession when play resumed today, stifling any lingering thoughts of a late Australian batting fightback in the process. He claimed his maiden wicket four balls into his display today when Ricky Ponting (1) edged him to slip and followed up that critical strike just two balls later, inducing Shane Warne (0) to nudge a delivery to Marvan Atapattu at a short gully position. Then, after Damien Fleming (16) - perhaps stung into action by being fined half his match payments by match referee, Cammie Smith, for his physical altercation with Chaminda Vaas yesterday - had driven confidently at him a number of times, Herath disturbed the Victorian's stumps as he attempted to play another through the off side. Following Colin Miller (6)'s tame departure courtesy of a ridiculous running mixup with his captain, Steve Waugh (19) became the left arm spinner's fourth scalp with the score at 228 as he ballooned an attempted slog-sweep high into the air after a stay during which he again strangely seemed content to allow his tailend partners to receive more of the strike than him.

In fading light, Marvan Atapaatu (21) and Sanath Jayasuriya (19) then sensibly consolidated the 68 run first innings advantage afforded them by Herath and Muttiah Muralitharan (5/71) with some batting which never departed too greatly from the orthodox. Jayasuriya survived a double scare (as the Australians appealed for both an lbw and, as an afterthought, a catch behind the wicket) early in his innings, but otherwise there were no real alarms. Both sprinkled predominantly defensive innings with some delightful boundaries and, given that they each looked increasingly confident as the innings progressed, there might well be more of the same from them in store and more annoyance for Australia when play resumes (half an hour earlier than originally scheduled) tomorrow.

Day4: Galle's rain kills the contest

After poor weather had severely disrupted the third day of this match (limiting play to a period of a mere two hours late in the day), the scheduled fourth day of the Second Test between Sri Lanka and Australia suffered an even more miserable predicament in Galle today. Heavy overnight and morning rain in this city in Sri Lanka's south west indeed contrived to thwart any play at all today, and proceedings were abandoned at around 2:00 pm local time (without so much as a ball being bowled) so sodden had the outfield become by that moment. Whilst the heavens did clear for a time in the middle part of the morning (and the ground staff performed a fine job in covering the pitch and surrounds and in mopping up a number of waterlogged parts of the ground), there was no real suggestion of play resuming in the Test from the stage that rain started falling again at around the time of the scheduled lunch break.

Naturally, the chances of this game resulting in anything other than a draw accordingly have been all but dashed. Moreover, with local weather forecasters predicting more precipitation over the course of the next twenty-four hours, even the chance that we may witness any more play in this match at all - a match in which Sri Lanka had hitherto held a strong advantage and a genuine hope of sealing the series - seem dubious.

Day5: Contest ended by more rain

After a third successive day of poor weather in Galle, the Second Test between Sri Lanka and Australia has concluded in a predictable and disappointing draw.  Although, unlike yesterday, some play (albeit only fifteen minutes' worth) was possible on this fifth and final day, the advent of heavy rain through the morning sadly ensured that proceedings were again abandoned long before stumps were officially due to be drawn.  For the record, the Sri Lankans finished at 0/55 in their second innings - Marvan Atapattu (28) and Sanath Jayasuriya (21) having added eleven runs in the four overs and two balls that were able to be bowled.

Accordingly, it is a sense of frustration which proves the most manifest emotion at the end of this match.  Moreover, in a series in which ball has generally dominated bat, the spectre of a draw in the clash was both unexpected and disappointing.  Prior to the intervention of several torrential downpours in this city in Sri Lanka's far south west, this was another contest (much like the first in the series) which had indeed appeared headed for a finish well inside five days and as though it might be about to afford the home team a second successive victory over the Australians - and, hence, a history-making series triumph.

Nevertheless, the result - which ensures that Sri Lanka continues to hold a 1-0 lead in the series - should not be regarded as having been entirely fruitlessly achieved.  This was again a match in which excellent spin bowling, particularly from Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, featured.  Warne (3/29) was brilliant in the first innings of the contest, at first slowing the Sri Lankans' progress before claiming three vital wickets on a helpful surface to restrict them to a total of 296.  After his team had been plundered for runs during the course of a first wicket partnership of 138, Muralitharan (5/71) then produced yet another of the stunning displays of spin bowling artistry for which he has become renowned over recent years, taking five wickets in the post-tea session on day two.  In a period of ninety minutes in which he transformed the complexion of the Test, the off spinner bemused a series of Australian batsmen (most notably, Justin Langer and Mark Waugh, who continued to look all at sea as they battled to save their shaky-looking Test careers) with the extent of his turn and his variation, establishing the basis of a collapse which saw the Australians plunge to a total of just 228. Although he bowled nervously initially, and showed little preparedness to flight his deliveries, debutant Rangana Herath (4/97) should also be given credit for his fightback on day three, when he claimed four wickets in quick succession to mop up the Australian tail.

Generally, there was little to admire in the batting , but there were four individual innings which stood out.  Although none compiled a genuinely outstanding hand, Aravinda de Silva (60) and Russel Arnold (50) played two steadfast hands for the home team, while Michael Slater (96) and Greg Blewett (62) performed much the same mission in the Australians' response.  Slater and Blewett, in fact, combined to register Australia's highest opening stand in four years and indicative of their dominance in their team's batting performance was the notion that no other player could even reach a score of twenty.

And so, while the Sri Lankans can probably claim something of a moral win over the Australians (for their overall lead of 123 runs with ten second innings wickets in hand may well have proved sufficiently large for them to lay the platform for another victory had enough time to complete the game been available), the series consequently remains in the balance at the end of this match.  The outcome will not be definitively settled until the completion of the Third Test, which starts in Colombo in three days' time.


Date-stamped : 25 Sep1999 - 11:14