Australia has started the Test series against Sri Lanka in strong fashion, taking control after just one day in Galle – though with a late blip.
The tourists, who were crushed 3-0 on the last tour in 2016, rolled Sri Lanka for 212 inside 60 overs before reaching stumps at 3-98.
These are the Talking Points after day one of the first Test.
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SWEPSON MAKES A STATEMENT… BUT IS IT ENOUGH?
To think Mitchell Swepson came so close to missing out altogether.
Rumours swirled before Wednesday that finger-spinning veteran Jon Holland was close to making a six-year return to Australia’s Test XI instead of Swepson.
Midway through the day’s play, Swepson was sending down two near-perfect leg-spinners to take wickets on consecutive balls.
Sri Lanka was suddenly teetering at 5-97.
It’s hard to remember the last time there were better consecutive leg-spinning deliveries sent down by an Australian in a Test match.
Whether the moment proves to be the making of Swepson as a Test player we cannot say.
He will continue to be more expensive than his teammates — and he likely won’t be as consistent either given the nature of his craft and his experience at the highest level.
But what he must deliver on occasion is moments like Wednesday, when he dismissed Dhananjaya de Silva and Dinesh Chandimal to be on a hat-trick.
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These are brief moments of magic that it feels like only wrist spinners can conjure. It’s the ability to suddenly tear chunks out of batting line-ups by making use of favourable conditions.
The jury will rightly still be out on Swepson, though.
He showed on day one that in the right conditions he can find drift, spin and bounce, although not for sustained periods.
As Niroshan Dickwella launched a counter-attack, Swepson was guilty of trying to do too much. The result was more drag-downs and a noticeable increase in pace which contributed to the pressure — which he created — being relieved somewhat.
By contrast, spin partner Nathan Lyon was patient and got his just rewards through a five-wicket while Swepson finished with just three wickets.
Former Australia wicketkeeper said that Swepson needs to trust his stock ball more, like Lyon trusts his, and the rest will come.
“I just want him to trust his leg spinner. We’ve seen when he’s bowling his best here he’s trusted his leg-spinner,” Haddin said in commentary.
“(It’s when) he tried to turn it hard and he’s got natural drift. The wicket will give natural variation, he doesn’t need to over-complicate it.”
LYON COULD BE UNSTOPPABLE IN THESE CONDITIONS
It took only one ball to see what Lyon could do in Sri Lanka this tour.
The ball gripped, ripped and took off on a length to not only beat the bat, but bamboozle wicketkeeper Alex Carey, who was struck on the helmet.
By the end of the innings, Lyon was leaving the field in Galle holding the ball aloft to the crowd having taken 5-90 from his 25 overs.
It was the perfect start to the series which follows a lacklustre 2016 tour in which he was comprehensively outperformed by his opposite number, Rangana Herath, and Australia lost 3-0.
After that series, Lyon spoke with Herath who shared a piece of wisdom Lyon hasn’t forgotten.
“I said, ‘What do you do that I don’t do?’ And he said, ‘I know that if I put the ball in one spot, you blokes will stuff up’. Those were his exact words,” Lyon told cricket.com.au.
And so Lyon, as often as possible, put the ball in one spot on Wednesday and reaped the rewards.
The pitch was turning straight away, while the amount of overspin Lyon can generate ensured the odd delivery would take off.
The doubt that that possibility created naturally made the ball that went on a big threat, too.
Simply put, on a pitch with natural variable bounce, Lyon never looked far away from a wicket.
Sure enough, Lyon took the 20th five-wicket haul of his Test career, and signalled his intent for a big series.
DON’T TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE QUICKS
All the talk is rightly about the spinners, but Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc shouldn’t be completely ignored.
After all, Mitchell Starc was top Australia’s wicket-taker in that 2016 series, and by some margin.
Both have big roles to play in this series — and both played them well on day one of the first Test.
Cummins and Starc hardly put a foot wrong inside the first 90 minutes of play when they bowled the vast majority of their overs.
The ball wasn’t seaming or swinging a mile but they still made inroads with their early assault to allow Lyon and Swepson to go to work on the middle and lower orders.
Starc’s speed was up, and his radar, which can sometimes waver, was on. He was rewarded when Kusal Mendis played a loose shot to the first ball of his second spell.
Cummins, meanwhile, was up to his usual tricks as he hit the right areas to eventually draw a false stroke from an uneasy Pathum Nissanka.
Lyon and Swepson will likely dominate proceedings again in the second innings, but the Sri Lankans would do well to not take their eye off Cummins or Starc who could still make a big impact of their own.
BIGGEST TEST YET OF KHAWAJA’S RESURGENCE
Usman Khawaja might have reinvented himself in Asia after two great tours against Pakistan, but this is shaping as a different beast.
Khawaja notably struggled in Asia in the early stages of his career with an average of just 14.62 on the continent after his first give Tests, which came between 2011 and 2017.
Since 2018, his average, after reaching stumps unbeaten on 47 on Wednesday, was a sky-high 128.66.
That number was largely boosted from trips to the UAE and Pakistan where tracks, particularly at the latter, were docile.
The size of the task in Sri Lanka, however, is far greater.
That much became clear in Khawaja’s 86 balls in the final session as he survived a number of close calls amid Sri Lanka’s spin onslaught.
He was given out LBW early but had his dismissal overturned by DRS. Khawaja also should have been stumped on 36 but Niroshan Dickwella missed the opportunity.
Khawaja then survived a strong appeal for a catch down leg side with DRS once again coming up in his favour.
Whatever happens from here likely won’t be pretty, as it hasn’t been so far, while it’s sure to put Khawaja’s improvements against spin to the ultimate test.
WARNER AND LABUSCHAGNE WORRY GROWS
This was not the start that David Warner nor Marnus Labuschagne needed.
Neither are under Test selection pressure, but their form in the game’s longest format will not go unnoticed.
Both would feel like they missed out in a batter’s paradise in Pakistan earlier this year where Labuschagne averaged 34.00 and Warner 33.80.
That feeling would have grown for the pair on Wednesday, which provided a brutal reminder that runs will be far harder to come by in Sri Lanka.
The wickets tumbled in quick fashion and both Warner and Labuschagne perished against Sri Lanka’s spin.
Warner could consider himself a little unlucky. Ramesh Mendis looked to bowl a stock ball but it skidded on to go past Warner’s front-foot defence and have him trapped in front for 25.
Labuschagne’s dismissal was less understandable. He played a loose reverse sweep against Mendis straight to the fielder at point.
Now Warner averages just 26.85 in seven innings in Sri Lanka, while his Test average in Asia is 34.30.
Meanwhile, Labuschagne averages just 26.40 in 10 innings in Asia.
Since making 90 in the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, he has scores of 0, 44, 0, 36 and now 13.
What will concern Australia further is that his dip in form stretches across all formats in 2022.
This year, he averages 26.05 in all formats and has only made two half centuries in 19 knocks.