1st Test – Sri Lanka v Australia

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2nd Test Cricket Preview – Sri Lanka v Australia

Tuesday July 26, 2:30pm AEST – Pallekele International Stadium, Kandy

The biggest challenge facing Australia in the opening Test of the three-match series against Sri Lanka is the transition to the red-ball. Not since the 2-0 Trans-Tasman series win over in New Zealand in February has Australia put on the whites. However, Steve Smith’s men should be acclimatised to local conditions after an internal practice match and a comfortable victory in three days over a Sri Lankan XI in Colombo. Steve O’Keefe was the star of the show with 10/64 for the match and contributed 78* with the bat. It’s no secret that Australian coach Darren Lehmann is looking to play two spinners in the opening test at the Pallekele International Stadium and it’s almost impossible seeing O’Keefe miss selecting in the starting XI. The experience of Nathan Lyon will also be invaluable for Australia and O’Keefe in particular, as he is the only current Australian bowler to have played Test cricket in Sri Lanka where patience is required until the surface starts to deteriorate.

Sri Lanka is still going through their rebuilding phase since the retirements of influential batsmen Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan and the pressure will once again fall on the shoulders of captain Angelo Matthews after his side’s disappointing series loss against England in June. Despite the class of Matthews, who averages 49.88 with the bat against Australia, he requires more from his top order after Sri Lanka was dismissed for 91 in the 1st innings of the 1st Test against England and 101 in the 1st innings of the 2nd Test. If Sri Lanka struggles to post a decent 1st innings against Australia, it nullifies the effectiveness of Rangana Herath, who needs a score to defend and tie down the Australian batsmen. Herath (38) is only behind the great Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in most wickets taken in Test matches between Sri Lanka and Australia. If things weren’t already bad enough for Sri Lanka, who have only 1 win over Australia in 26 Tests (8 Draws), Muralitharan has been helping the Australian spinners in a consultancy role.

In team news, Australia should welcome back David Warner from a broken thumb, while Sri Lanka will need to find replacements for Dhammika Prasad, Dushmantha Chameera and Shaminda Eranga, leaving their bowling stocks very thin.

Rain is always a chance in Sri Lanka and three of the four Test matches played at the Pallekele International Stadium have finished in a draw, although the last Test at the ground in July 2015 saw a 7-wicket win to Pakistan. Sri Lankan opener Dimuth Karunaratne made 130 on the occasion and will be hoping for a repeat effort against Australia, while Angelo Matthews did everything in his power to guide Sri Lanka to an imposing 382 lead in the second innings with an inspirational 122. Pakistan’s duo of Shan Masood (125) and Younis Khan (171*) guided Pakistan to an unlikely victory. Keep on an eye on the weather!

The Wolf still has concerns about Australia’s ability against a world class spinner like Herath, but Sri Lanka can’t continue to rely on Matthews and Chandimal down the order to get them out of trouble. Mitchell Starc has 10 wickets from 2 matches against Sri Lanka and will be looking for a huge series after his recent absence with injury. There’s simply too much class and stability in the Australian side for the struggling Sri Lankans.

Match Result – Australia ($1.90)

Sri Lanka Most Runs – Dinesh Chandimal ($4.50)

Australia Most Runs – Steve Smith ($4.25)

Sri Lanka Most Wickets – Rangana Herath ($2.75)

Australia Most Wickets Mitchell Starc ($3.50)

Best Bet – Australia ($1.90)

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