Questions remain on pace quartet


Just as the rich are lampooned sometimes for having more money than they know what to do with, Australia captain Michael Clarke could be considered to have been over-endowed with pacemen.

Bowling Sri Lanka out inside day one for 294 runs was arguably enough to prevent the selection of five specialist bowlers being described as a blunder - the abysmal lack of discipline by the visitors' tailenders prevented that.

There was, nevertheless, little to suggest the job done collectively by Australia's four pacemen could not have been adequately completed by three. That, too, would have kept Australia's specialist batting line-up at seven rather than the six it must do with for the rest of the series-ending Test at the SCG.

Given Sri Lanka's dismal capitulation in Melbourne and the five-day break between Tests, Australia's seamers would seemingly have been able and willing to entrench suspicions about the Sri Lankans' susceptibility to pace.

The composition of Australia's team seemed to sway Clarke in two key ways. First, he chose to field at the SCG despite no captain having done so for 21 years, consigning his batsmen to a fourth-innings task against the world's most prolific wicket-taker of last year, spinner Rangana Herath.

Second, only once was a seamer given a spell of more than four overs: the impressive Jackson Bird's five-over spell with the first new ball.

While it could be argued that such an approach would prevent complacency among the pacemen, it also prevented a chance to build pressure over a longer period, a scenario second-gamer Bird has relished in the Sheffield Shield. He snared 4-41 without raising a sweat.

The addition of Mitch Starc to the Melbourne pace attack of Bird, Peter Siddle and Mitch Johnson undoubtedly bolstered Australia's ability to promptly dispatch the tail and should theoretically have given Clarke more flexibility in his bowling combinations, but it also hindered it.

Before the Boxing Day Test Shane Warne argued Starc and Johnson could not feature in the same attack because each was too likely to leak runs. Of the 87.4 overs Australia bowled on day one only two featured the left-armers bowling in tandem.

By comparison, right-armers Bird and Siddle had a combined partnership of 11 overs. While Clarke could afford to bypass one fast-bowling combination in a four-man attack it surely would be too much of a hindrance with three. The second Sri Lankan innings will hopefully provide a platform to test their capability to bowl together before the looming India tour.

Some things about the first Sri Lankan innings were an extension of Melbourne, namely the flimsy opening partnership and the too-frequent lazy dismissal of specialist batsmen and tailenders alike. The things that were not - pleasingly - were the long-awaited glimpse of captain Mahela Jayawardene's best in Australia and a fine Test innings from a batsman aged in his 20s rather than mid-30s. Lahiru Thirimanne, 23, one of four beneficiaries from Sri Lanka's spate of injuries, was that stand-out young batsman.

Jayawardene and Thirimanne shared Sri Lanka's best partnership, 62 for the third wicket, and produced the most memorable moments for the SCG crowd of 26,197 with their strokeplay - although Starc provided a late contender too with a fast inswinging yorker that bowled a helpless Dinesh Chandimal.

Both key Sri Lankans survived early scares: Jayawardene on four when Mike Hussey was uncharacteristically slow to react to a second-slip catching opportunity; Thirimanne on a golden duck after a video review overturned umpire Aleem Dar's leg-before decision off the bowling of Bird.

Sri Lanka was clearly in the ascendancy at 2-134 when Starc provided his first telling cameo of the day to angle a delivery across Jayawardene that held its line and went to first slip via his outside edge. While it was certainly an improvement on the 35-year-old's Test form in Australia - he had only once reached 50 in 14 innings - he batted well enough to suggest a century would have been deserving.

Between them, Thirimanne and Jayawardene hit 25 fours and two sixes, with most due to good technique more than luck or power.

Thirimanne deserved credit for taking over the lead batting role once Jayawardene went, taking his team to a respectable 6-250.

His shot at a century ended with a reckless swipe off Nathan Lyon, leaving him nine short of a maiden hundred. Given Sri Lanka's tailenders showed so little fight, the biggest surprise was the last wicket did not fall early enough to force Australia to bat just before stumps.

Mitchell Starc and teammates celebrate the wicket of Angelo Mathews. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Mitchell Starc and teammates celebrate the wicket of Angelo Mathews. Picture: GETTY IMAGES


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