If Sri Lanka needed any extra motivation heading into their three-Test series against Australia, captain Mahela Jayawardene provided it on Thursday on the eve of the first Test by announcing this tour will be his last as skipper.
The Sri Lankans, fresh from splitting a two-Test home series against New Zealand last month, are chasing their first Test win in Australia.
The opening Test starting Friday at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval will be followed by Tests at Melbourne and Sydney. Sri Lanka and Australia will then play five one-dayers and two Twenty20 matches.
Jayawardene, 35, who was re-appointed as skipper for a 12-month period in January, announced on Thursday he will stand down after the Australia tour.
He will lead an inexperienced bowling attack and an aging batting line-up against an Australian side that feels it is close to piecing together a strong team, having pushed No.1-ranked South Africa in a just-completed three-Test series.
Left-arm spin bowler Rangana Herath has emerged as Sri Lanka’s most potent weapon in the past year, but – Sydney aside – it is unlikely the Australian pitches will offer the same opportunities as those in the subcontinent.
“We probably don’t have the pace which you think which is required to win Test matches in Australia but we’ve got guys who will bowl good lines and lengths and create opportunities,” Jayawardene said Thursday.
Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera, meanwhile, will look for a chance to cement their places among Sri Lanka’s batting greats.
“A lot of the guys will be very hungry to do well,” Jayawardene said.
“Especially when you’re playing against a top side like Australia, you want to lift your game.
“It’s about pride. We aren’t just there to make up the numbers, we’re going to play a good game,” he added.
“Individually the guys will have to come up with a game plan on how they’re going to adjust. The bowlers will have to work out how to attack a really good batting line-up as well.”
Australia came close to winning the first two Tests against South Africa, before suffering a crushing 309-run loss in the third at Perth – ex-captain Ricky Ponting’s farewell match.
Ponting’s retirement prompted a recall of former opener Phil Hughes after a 12-month absence to fill the No. 3 spot in the batting line-up, while Shane Watson drops down the order to No. 4.
As for openers David Warner and Ed Cowan, Australia captain Michael Clarke says it is time for them to assert themselves.
“There is plenty of talent there. It is about owning your position, making the most of it,” Clarke said.
“They have the chance to build a long, successful career whether it be opening the batting (or) batting three.”
While Warner and Cowan both averaged over 40 in the South Africa series, Australia’s first-innings starts of 3-40, 3-55 and 3-34 put the home team’s middle order under enormous pressure.
Clarke says the key to big-hitting Warner’s success lay in trusting in his natural, expansive style of play.
“He plays his best when he’s looking to score runs,” he said.
“Sometimes he doesn’t look great when he gets out, but the other side is he’s got that x-factor.
“He can take a game away from any team in the first session of a Test match really. Not too many players in the world have that talent.”
Despite a six-wicket haul against South Africa at Perth, Mitchell Johnson was dropped from the Australian XI in favour of fellow fast bowlers Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus.
Siddle and Hilfenhaus return after being rested from the third Test against South Africa in Perth, while Mitchell Starc was named as the third-prong in the Australian pace attack. Offspinner Nathan Lyon completes the bowling line-up.