Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc, who both bowled more than 50 overs each in Hobart, were the catalysts for the turnaround in the final innings after Sri Lanka began to settle in. Nathan Lyon, despite match figures of 2/133, bowled some superb tight lines to keep the Sri Lankans under pressure.
Michael Clarke once again proved just why he is on the top of the 2012 test runs tally, scoring 131 for the match. Phil Hughes, playing his first test match in over a year, looked much more confident playing the short ball and looked better overall.
The one thing that was a highlight was the batting order (in particular the openers through to Wade) started to gather some real consistency, but only Mike Hussey went on to score a century. Shane Watson was again disappointing, not finding a start, and has not scored a test century for two years.
From a Sri Lankan point of view, the batsmen were able to find plenty of positives, in particular Tilakaratne Dilshan. The bowlers have a lot of work to do, however. Their use of the swinging ball was nowhere to be seen in the first innings, and Rangana Herath and Welegedara only managed to find it late in the second innings.
As always, the workhorse, Peter Siddle, will be at the forefront of Australia’s bowling attack. He will be leading, most likely, an attack of inexperienced test players, as well as the possibility of debutant Jackson Bird. The MCG pitch has shown itself in state games this season to be seamer friendly, and if Bird gets a chance he will be itching to have a crack at the Sri Lanka batsmen. Mitchell Johnson will be raring to bowl on the MCG pitch after missing out in Hobart.
The other key is not just batsman as individuals, but the line-up as a whole, particularly 1-7. Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and David Warner all put runs on the board in Hobart but no one got to three figures. Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey have hit form, and if the batting cohort as a whole can all score big runs, Australia can bat Sri Lanka out of the game.
Chanaka Welegedara may have had match figures of 6/219 in Hobart but looked the most dangerous of the Sri Lankan pace attack. He must be able to use the new ball early to his advantage.
Kumar Sangakkara, Tilakaratne Dilshan, and Mahela Jayawardene – the experienced heads – need to lead from the front. With a transition in the team currently happening, and Angelo Mathews touted as the new captain after Jayawardene retires after this series, their role as leaders cannot be understated for the rest of this series. In particular I want to see Dilshan continue his Hobart form, where he scored an impressive century.
The fact Sri Lanka’s last test at the MCG was 1995 could give the Australians a psychological edge. It was the test where Muttiah Muralidaran was called for chucking by Darrell Hair.
Michael Clarke, despite his shortfall of form at the MCG, is out to score his first century at the ground and could prove very pivotal.
Australia: Clarke (c), Watson (vc), Bird, Cowan, Hughes, M Hussey, Johnson, Khawaja, Lyon, Siddle, Wade, Warner.
Sri Lanka: N/A
I have rarely seen the MCG in bad condition. With temperatures set to be below 30 celsius for the entire test, we should see plenty of cricket. Whichever team bats first can knuckle down and score 500.
I’m disappointed to see that Starc will be rotated out due to the number of overs he bowled in Hobart, while Siddle stays. If the bowlers aren’t able to play a consistent run of test matches, that is when they can lose match fitness and not have the chance to find form.
On the game itself, all signs point to Australia. The addition of Jackson Bird, who seems to be at home at the MCG, as well as home-town hero Siddle, will be a delight for Victorians. It seems likely that whoever bats first could put the game out of the others reach. Hughes’ Hobart form will give him confidence ahead of Boxing Day, while Clarke will have till the coin toss to prove his fitness.
Sri Lanka can take many positives from Hobart and head to the MCG. Herath found some good touch with his spinners, but other than that I have a feeling things will fall Australia’s way.