Monday, August 29, 2011

Pitching it up: Galle International Stadium

by Balanced Sports columnist Ben Roberts

The three Test series begins in the south west of the island nation on a strip of land heading south into the Indian Ocean. Such location is described as being immensely picturesque however it was also immensely vulnerable on Boxing Day 2004 when the Tsunami devastated the area. The ground undertook a large reconstruction thanks to the large international cricket community, fearful it would be lost forever.

The ground was first built in 1876, however it was not until 1998 when it received its first Test match. In all 17 matches have been played on the ground, with nine wins for the Sri Lankans, coupled with three Losses and five draws. The pitch is typical sub-continent accepting spin and asking for patient batting against it. As you would expect Muttiah Muralidaran is the most successful bowler with 111 wickets on the ground in 15 matches, daylight is second.

Australia and Sri Lanka have clashed twice at Galle. A rain affected draw was the 1999 matches result, but there was time enough for Shane Warne and Murali to take three and five wickets respectively. For Australia both Glenn McGrath and Damien Fleming bowled well, indicating that because of the breeze coming off the ocean on three sides of the ground as well as being closer to sea level patience and skill could be valuable for the quicker bowlers also.

In 2004 Australia won by 197 runs, but not before Murali had tied them in knots, taking 11 wickets. Australia fought back from a 161-run first innings deficit with patient centuries from Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, and Darren Lehmann (his first in Test cricket). So conservative were the usually swashbuckling Australians that these three recorded strike rates in these innings of 61, 34, and 60 runs per 100 balls, well down on what was usual. Warne took 5 wickets in each innings and Stuart MacGill 4 in the second as Sri Lanka was bowled out.

Given the nature of the current Australian side they are unlikely to go into the match with more than one spinner – a decision to be made between Nathan Lyon and Michael Beer. My favourite, Peter Siddle, will likely miss this one out as it is not a pitch that will respond to being attacked well short of a length as is his want. Bolter Trent Copeland of NSW appears likely to get a game after his five wickets in the lead up match and his more patient approach being more of a plus in teaming up with Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris.

Whatever the eventual line up will be for both sides (remember Sri Lanka are yet to find a suitable replacement for Murali) whoever wins the toss stands the greatest chance of success. Bat first, be patient, run up a total before being disciplined in the field against an opposition weary from their own fielding endeavours.

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