Australia - Sri Lanka rivalry to resume


Bitter foes on and off the field, Arjuna Ranatunga and Shane Warne added colour to Sri Lanka versus Australia rivalry in the years gone by.

by Rex Clementine


There's simply no break for the national cricket team. The Sri Lankans finished their two month long tour of England earlier this week and next week they will be back at training preparing for the bilateral series against Australian tourists. Australia's captain Steven Smith has already arrived in the island and the first batch of players will arrive today followed by the second set tomorrow. Can Sri Lankans improve their disastrous record against one of the finest cricket teams this time around remains to be seen.

The Australians have totally dominated contests against Sri Lanka. There have been 26 Tests between the countries so far and only one of those have been won by Sri Lanka. Australia have won 17 Tests. Sri Lanka's winning percentage against Australia in Tests is less than four percent.

In general, the Sri Lankans have a better record at home against visiting teams. But not against the Aussies. This is Australia's sixth tour of the island. Of the previous five series, Australia have won four. Sri Lanka's solitary win came in 1999 when they clinched the three match series 1-0. On that occasion, they won the Kandy Test by six wickets after Australia had been reduced to nine men with Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie involved in a collision attempting a catch. They took no further part in the game. That was Sri Lanka's first win over Australia and sadly the only so far.

Sri Lanka came so close to winning on several other occasions. In the famous Test at SSC in 1992 they piled up a massive 547 in their first innings and a lead of more than 300 runs. Despite the superb start, they still lost by 16 runs. It was a bitter pill to swallow for fans. That was the glorious uncertainties of the sport many said while a few others looked at the game with suspicion.

Then in 2004, Ricky Ponting led perhaps the strongest Australian side to come to our shores.

The Australians on that occasion had Hayden and Langer as openers, Ponting at number three followed by a solid middle order comprising Martyn, Lehmann, Symonds and Gilchrist. Shane Warne was making a return after a drug ban and was backed up by Gillespie, Kasprowicz and MacGill.

In all three Tests, Sri Lanka took a first innings lead, but still went onto lose the series 3-0.

The present Australian side is thin on experience as very few have played in Sri Lanka before. But their preparation has been meticulous. That has always been the case with the Aussies. The Test squad has been training at their National Cricket Center in Brisbane on wickets similar to those found in Sri Lanka. Former Test cricketer Thilan Samaraweera has been guiding the Australian batsmen while champion spinner Muttiah Muralitharan will join them in a coaching capacity.

For Sri Lanka, leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay who was ruled out of the England tour with injury is expected make his Test debut.

Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who bowled so well in England with little luck will be the key for Sri Lankans.

Seamer Nuwan Pradeep was a stand out performer in England and he has become an automatic choice for the series after his excellent run in England.

While Sri Lanka's Test record against Australia is poor, the stats are better in ODI cricket. There have been 91 ODIs between the countries and 56 of them have been won by Australia while Sri Lanka have won 36.

Years ago, there was intense rivalry between Australians and Sri Lankans following the ill-tempered tour of Australia in 1995. Then in 1996, Australia's pull out of their World Cup fixture in Sri Lanka added fuel to the fire. But with leading protagonists like Shane Warne and Arjuna Ranatunga well into their retirements, things have mellowed down.

The 2004 tour is noted for the war of words between Ranatunga and Warne. Prior to the tour, when Australian media asked Ranatunga for a comment on Warne making a comeback to intentional cricket after serving a drug ban, Ranatunga said, "I don't think he will be that effective this time around. He's put on weight and looks unfit," Ranatunga said.

Warne responded saying, "Arjuna should be the last person to talk of fitness. Look at him, he is like swallowed a sheep or a goat or something."

Arjuna hit back, "I would rather eat a sheep or a goat than eat what he's been eating and then blame my mum for it." The comment was a reference to Warne's excuse after being caught doping that his mum had given him some tablets to look better during a television show."



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