Six days ago, while the Sri Lankans were capitulating to lose the Boxing Day Test, Lahiru Thirimanne was back home in Sri Lanka enjoying a day off in between one-day commitments for Ragama. He must have been as surprised as anyone to find himself batting on the opening day of a Test match at the SCG less than a week later. Thirimanne acclimatised to his new role quickly and although he narrowly missed out on a maiden Test century, he ensured Sri Lanka were able to bat until stumps. Just.
At the close of play, the Sri Lankans had just been dismissed for 294. It could have been better had Thirimanne or Mahela Jayawardene, who both made half-centuries, gone on to triple figures. But it could also have been much worse after the Sri Lankans were sent in by Michael Clarke, who had chosen four fast bowlers on a pitch tinged with green grass. Jackson Bird finished with 4 for 41 and Mitchell Starc bounced back from his rest over the Christmas period with 3 for 71, and while it took until nearly 6pm, Clarke would have been pleased to end the day with the Sri Lankans all out. For a while, that appeared unlikely as Thirimanne and Jayawardene steered Sri Lanka to 2 for 134, and later the score was 4 for 222. But once Australia’s bowlers found their way into the tail, the end came quickly. The final five wickets fell for 44 and a briefly entertaining last-wicket stand of 21 between Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep had the unexpected benefit for Australia of allowing Ed Cowan and David Warner to start their innings on the second morning instead of late on the first evening.
Pradeep finished on 17 not out, his highest first-class score, and Lakmal was the last man out when he edged to slip for 5 off the bowling of Bird. It was the third catch of the day for the retiring Michael Hussey, who also put one down early in Jayawardene’s innings. Bird had also picked up the wicket of Rangana Herath, who skied a catch to mid-off for 5, shortly after the last of the recognised batsmen, Dinesh Chandimal, was superbly yorked by Starc for 24.
Starc had been involved in the previous wicket as well, when he took a diving catch at mid-on to get rid of Dhammika Prasad, whose heaving pull off Peter Siddle was a shot deserving of a dismissal. Another fine catch had brought Prasad to the crease, when Thirimanne, on 91, was deceived by Nathan Lyon. Thirimanne drove hard at a ball that was wider than he expected, and his edge lobbed up towards point and was brilliantly taken by a diving David Warner. It was a disappointing end for Thirimanne, who was initially scratchy and struggled to rotate the strike, but found his touch as the innings wore on. Thirimanne would not have played this match but for Sri Lanka suffering two injuries to their top seven. Chandimal, the backup batsman in the squad, came in for Kumar Sangakkara and when Prasanna Jayawardene was also ruled out due to his broken thumb, it allowed Thirimanne to play his eighth Test. He was impressive in his 151-ball innings and scored 13 fours and one six. He drove with authority and used his feet to Lyon, also pulling strongly against the fast bowling. Thirimanne had been fortunate to make it that far; he was given out lbw for a golden duck when Bird bowled full and straight, but after some consideration Thirimanne asked for a review and was reprieved as replays indicated the ball had pitched a fraction outside leg stump.
Sri Lanka 1st innings
FDM Karunaratne c Hussey b Bird 5
TM Dilshan c †Wade b Bird 34
DPMD Jayawardene* c Clarke b Starc 72
HDRL Thirimanne c Warner b Lyon 91
TT Samaraweera lbw b Siddle 12
AD Mathews c Hussey b Starc 15
LD Chandimal† b Starc 24
KTGD Prasad c Starc b Siddle 2
HMRKB Herath c Siddle b Bird 5
RAS Lakmal c Hussey b Bird 5
N Pradeep not out 17
Extras: (lb 8, w 3, nb 1) 12
Fall of wickets: 1-26 (Karunaratne, 7.5 ov), 2-72 (Dilshan, 21.4 ov), 3-134 (Jayawardene, 42.1 ov), 4-167 (Samaraweera, 50.6 ov), 5-222 (Mathews, 66.2 ov), 6-250 (Thirimanne, 73.3 ov), 7-256 (Prasad, 74.4 ov), 8-271 (Chandimal, 80.1 ov), 9-273 (Herath, 81.4 ov), 10-294 (Lakmal, 87.4 ov)
Bowling: MA Starc 19-0-71-3, JM Bird 19.4-10-4-1, PM Siddle 15-3-46-2, MG Johnson 13-1-58-0, NM Lyon 19-2-69-1, MEK Hussey 2-1-1-0,
EJM Cowan, DA Warner, PJ Hughes, MJ Clarke*, MEK Hussey, MS Wade†, MG Johnson, MA Starc, PM Siddle, NM Lyon, JM Bird
Toss Australia, who chose to field
Player of the match tba
Umpires Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and AL Hill (New Zealand)
TV umpire NJ Llong (England)
Match referee BC Broad (England)
Reserve umpire PR Reiffel
Thirimanne shows the future is not bleak
From all the innings, shots, wickets and catches Mahela Jayawardene oversaw as captain of Sri Lanka in 2012, his favourite moment was an instance of exceptional gall from Lahiru Thirimanne. Sri Lanka were five runs short of victory in Pallekele in their first Super Eights match of the World Twenty20, but they only had two balls remaining, with Tim Southee at the bowling crease, delivering one of the spells of the tournament. Thirimanne, fresh from the dugout, had not managed a convincing stroke from either of the balls he had faced, yet on the penultimate delivery of Sri Lanka’s innings, he knelt and played a scoop he had never tried before in international cricket, sending Southee’s yorker over short fine leg for four, and the stadium into raptures. “For Lahiru to have the courage to do that and back himself was fantastic,” Jayawardene said months later, while reflecting on the year’s events. “I think among the young group, he has that mindset to handle those really tough situations.”