x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dry wicket has Clarke's men in a spin

Selection headaches for both teams but tourists have more reason to worry since only Ponting has played in the island nation before.

From left, Australia's Shaun Marsh, Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle will be hoping to relax and come up strong to the challenge of a drier than usual wicket at the Galle Stadium. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
From left, Australia's Shaun Marsh, Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle will be hoping to relax and come up strong to the challenge of a drier than usual wicket at the Galle Stadium. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP

GALLE, Sri Lanka // Australia and Sri Lanka were searching for the right combination to tackle a bone-dry wicket as they prepared for today's first Test.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, the Sri Lankan captain, and Michael Clarke, his Australian counterpart, expect spin to dominate at the Galle International Stadium, leaving selection headaches for both teams.

"The wicket looks more dry than what we got in previous matches in Galle," said Dilshan, who leads Sri Lanka for the first time in a home series. "It will be a bit slow and I think it will turn after tea on the first day itself."

Clarke, who begins his reign as a full-time Australia Test captain, also foresees a trial by spin for his batsmen. "I hope I win the toss," Clarke said. "It will be harder to bat as the game goes on. Our biggest challenge in the series is how we are going to play spin bowling. It is going to be a tough battle."

Clarke's predecessor, Ricky Ponting, is the only one in the touring party to have played a Test match in Sri Lanka, way back in 2004 when Australia won 3-0.

Australia are debating whether to play both their specialist spinners, Michael Beer and Nathan Lyon, or go in with three fast bowlers in Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and the debutant Trent Copeland.

Beer, 27, has played in just one Test, while Lyon, 23, was a surprise selection for the tour after just four first-class matches behind him.

Copeland, 25, a lanky seam bowler from New South Wales, enhanced his claims in the three-day tour match in Colombo last week with a five-wicket haul in the first innings.

Australia will also need to choose between two left-handers, Shaun Marsh and the Pakistan-born Usman Khwaja, for the No 6 place in their batting line-up.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, left out the rookie duo of seamer Shaminda Eranga and leg-spinner Seekkuge Prasanna in a shortlist of 13 players announced yesterday.

Dilshan was non-committal when asked if Sri Lanka would field a trio of spinners - the unorthodox Ajantha Mendis, the left-armer Rangana Herath and the off-spinner Suraj Randiv.

"There is a good chance of playing three spinners, but I can also bowl a bit of off-spin, so we will see what is best," he said.

If all three play, Chanaka Welegedera may be the only seamer in the team with Angelo Mathews, the all-rounder, sharing the new ball.

The first Test marks the start of a new chapter for both teams as they look to climb back up the Test rankings.

Australia, for so long the No 1 ranked team, have fallen to fifth place, while Sri Lanka, ranked second just a year ago, are fourth behind leaders England, South Africa and India.

With the top four due to contest the inaugural world Test championship in England in 2013, both teams will hope to push their claims. A series win for Australia would see them rise to fourth place, but the positions will remain unchanged if Sri Lanka win.

Since the retirement of the world bowling record holder Muttiah Muralitharan a year ago, Sri Lanka have failed to win a Test, having lost two and drawn six.

The remaining two Tests will be played in Pallekele (September 8 to 12) and Colombo (September 16 to 20).