AUSTRALI TOUR FROM SRI LANKA, 2022
Steve Smith throws an offbreak during practice © AFP
A few hours before David Warner faced a bouncer from off-spinner Maheesh Theekshana in the middle of the Premadasa, Usman Khawaja suffered a spit. doosra from Steve Smith in the nets at the back of the stadium. And both seemed rather ignorant in their efforts to counter it. But none of the Australian Test openers seemed too alarmed or surprised by the unpleasantness of what had happened off the field. Or maybe even the prospect of more of the same in the next three weeks.
As Warner put it at the end of the fourth ODI, Australia has come to Sri Lanka expecting “spinning wickets”. It sounded more like a statement than a statement, even if it wasn’t. He didn’t come across as someone from outside the subcontinent who had resigned himself to being put in the stands for a test drive. In any case, Warner seemed to enjoy the challenge ahead in Galle during the two tests, and he may have even looked forward to it.
You could also feel it in his reactions every time a ball ripped past his bat, or he jumped off the surface when the multitude of Sri Lankan spinners were in action. If he didn’t have a big smile on his face, Warner would sit behind the stumps chatting with Niroshan Dickwella about it. Not to mention his trumped-up surprise at Theekshana’s bouncer—or the calm flashing over his shoulder—not being flagged as “one for the over” by the umpires.
On the other side of the nets, Khawaja appeared to be enjoying his spin training, thanks also to Smith, who more or less tried to replicate what the Sri Lankan teams could do during the Tests. With his pads still on, Australia’s main test batter focused not only on trying to get the supplies he tossed in as pauses to turn away from Khawaja, but also getting the odd one out straight. The one who went through the left-hander’s defense and hit the top of the center stump did a lot more than just straighten from the corner around the wicket corner. So much so that both Khawaja and Smith were quite impressed with it. While Khawaja wondered if he wasn’t better off playing more on his back foot, the veteran duo came to the conclusion that a viciousdoosra spinning the other way with such dramatic effect was an oddity and not the kind that you could really prepare for. And they got back to work on the more manageable aspects of preparing for a raging gymnast, which generally focuses on playing the line of the ball and not the perceived amount of bend off the field. At one point, Khawaja even got rid of Michael Di Venuto’s throwdowns and stood against Smith. And only when he was satisfied with his session did he walk away, still chatting with his old hitting partner, who then naturally preceded a long net of his own. When Smith finally finished his nearly 90 minute net, you got the sense that these were very early days of Australia’s preparation for their inevitable Inquisition by Lasith Embuldeniya and Ramesh Mendis in Galle.
That Sri Lanka won the ODI series against all odds is the kind of impulse that this country has been needing so badly for a while. It has given Sri Lankans everywhere the belief that however bleak their near future may seem now, their compatriots have not lost the ability to fight their way back from the tightest and darkest corner. Being at the Premadasa on a Tuesday night was quite an experience. Whether you walked into the cheap seats or the grandstand, the buzz and excitement surrounding their team wasn’t just palpable, it was infectious. Like at that moment, as they waved to the baila,you wanted to drop your cape of objectivity and start cheering for the home side.
So when the match finally reached its dramatic climax with skipper Dasun Shanaka having to defend 5 runs from the last ball, there was an awful atmosphere of “Oh, you can’t take this joy from us either” among the 30,000 partisan Sri Lankans around the ground. Followed, of course, by the proverbial roof that went off when Matthew Kuhnemann skied the slower ball to short cover.
Warner enjoys the rotating fields ©AFP
For Warner and the Aussies, especially those left behind for the Tests, the ODI series, despite the result, was perhaps ironically the best preparation for the Test stage at Galle. And you’d expect people like Warner & Co to be pretty excited about the rather inconsequential final ODI on Friday (June 24).
“We always expect to turn wickets and it’s fantastic preparation for us…it’s great practice leading up to the Test series. We really love that they’re playing back-to-back on the wickets, that’s what we want, we can’t get that practice in the nets – the nets are green. For us it’s great practice in the middle with these dust bins. It’s going to be exciting for the test matches in Galle because we know what we’re going to achieve there Warner said.
Much of how Australia gets through the two weeks in Galle will be read in terms of their lead up to the highly anticipated test tour of India early next year. And while many would, to some extent, mistakenly assume that Pat Cummins & Co will be greeted by the Native Americans with go-getters and dustbins, they’re more likely to face more extreme conditions here. And Warner said the same.
“This is an extreme spin, you don’t usually see these kinds of wickets, you only see them here. India is very different, they’re actually good wickets and they’re going to be day three and four. It’s about being busy – I remember I played in Dhaka that was one of the worst wickets I’ve ever played on, and I made a hundred. It’s about committing, it’s about concentration and it’s about hitting for a long time.”
You could tell from the way Khawaja wanted to tweak his game after the delivery went through his gate that the potential success of the Aussies in Galle will depend on how much they play the spinners with their feet and how little they do in their heads. . And Khawaja started playing the off spin a lot more from the back foot than at the start of his session. Surely it is a technique that worked wonders for him in Pakistan. On to Warner.
“In one-day cricket you have to try and go for it, so it really helps you to be positive. You can take that into the Test Match series – use your feet, go deep in your tuck, get to them a little bit. We’ll see what they’re going to deliver. These are things we expect(and) to happen in 2016 – it’s just there’s no Rangana Herath (on this occasion). Obviously they have other spinners that are on their test team, but it will nothing unexpected for us.”
And for now, despite the turnaround in ODIs, their focus on managing their expectations while anticipating the worst, but without getting overly overwhelmed with what’s to come could be the perfect recipe for success when they’re on their way. coast drive to Galle. †