Before this Test was 40 overs old, 12 wickets had fallen and just 124 runs had been scored. Three of the dismissals were bowled, four lbw. Forget about reducing the depth of bats, making them wider and longer seemed a better way to achieve balance between bat and ball on a day like this. But then Steven Smith and Usman Khawaja came along, played steady, and restored sanity. They reminded everyone that, actually, these were quite good batting conditions.
Until then, the only such hint from the scorecard was the footnote that Angelo Mathews had won the toss and chosen to bat. Josh Hazlewood: 3 for 21 from ten overs. Nathan Lyon: 3 for 12 from three. Sri Lanka’s top scorer: debutant Dhananjaya de Silva with 24. Sri Lanka’s best partnership: 25. And after Sri Lanka were all out for 117, David Warner and Joe Burns both fell within the first four overs of Australia’s innings. Surely this was a bowler’s paradise?
Not quite. Yes, there was spin. Yes, there were hints of swing. So there should be. But the bounce was generally true and as Smith and Khawaja began to show later in the day – before rain washed out the entire final session good batting could be rewarded. Of course, they were both still finding their way when play was abandoned, Smith on 28 from 46 deliveries and Khawaja on 25 from 54. But only one Sri Lankan Dinesh Chandimal with 15 off 54 – had lasted that long.
Certainly Australia’s bowlers deserve significant credit. Hazlewood especially found just enough movement early in the day to be constantly threatening. Mitchell Starc picked up the first wicket, Dimuth Karunaratne lbw for 5 to a ball that tailed in, but Starc was playing his first Test since November and took some time to find his consistency. Hazlewood was the man who pierced the Sri Lanka top order.
Kusal Mendis was lbw to Hazlewood for 8, failing to get bat on a ball that swung in, and Kaushal Silva followed quickly for 4, edging through to Adam Voges at first slip. Sri Lanka’s 15 for 2 had become 18 for 3, and Mathews might have started to wish he had lost the toss after all. He was the next man to walk to the crease and, after offering some resistance, was also the next to walk off.
Smith had called on the left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe in the ninth over of the match and some turn was immediately evident. Then, in his fourth over, O’Keefe extracted both spin and bounce to collect the edge off Mathews, who was taken at slip for 15. The innings was not yet 15 overs old and already Sri Lanka’s debutant at No.6, de Silva, was on his way to the middle.
But de Silva showed few nerves and from his fifth ball in Test cricket got off the mark with a classy six down the ground off O’Keefe, using his feet to find the pitch of the ball and hitting through the line. It was the only glimmer in an otherwise gloomy morning for the hosts. They went to lunch at 84 for 5 after Hazlewood again found some late swing, just enough to clip the edge of Chandimal’s bat; he was caught behind for 15.
Sri Lanka lasted only a further 38 deliveries after lunch, as Lyon finished off what Hazlewood had started. Lyon had bowled just a single over before lunch but took two wickets within the first four deliveries after the break. The second ball of the session turned and caught the inside edge of de Silva’s bat, and he was taken at bat-pad for 24. Two balls later Dilruwan Perera was struck in front for a duck.
In his next over, Lyon got rid of Kusal Perera, who offered no shot to a ball that went on with the arm and rattled his stumps. He had made 20 and was the last of the recognised batsmen. The only question remaining was whether Sri Lanka would reach triple figures; they did that, but not a whole lot more.
Herath was lbw to Starc, the victim of an astute review from the Australians that found the ball had just clipped his foot before coming off the middle of the bat. Debutant Lakshan Sandakan struck four boundaries to provide some entertainment before Nuwan Pradeep was the last man out, taken at slip off O’Keefe.
Rare is the Test in which a first innings of 117 is adequate, though Mathews would have been buoyed by the start made by his bowlers. In the third over, Pradeep got one to swing back in to David Warner, who chopped on for a duck, and next over Joe Burns was bowled for 3 when Herath, who shared the new ball in an attack short on pace options, moved one on with the arm.
Australia were 7 for 2, but finally a half-century was forthcoming – albeit a partnership – as Khawaja and Smith compiled 59 by tea. They had just settled in when the rain did the same.