Sri Lanka may have its best chance to win a cricket Test in Australia when it faces an unsettled Australian lineup in a day-night match in Brisbane from Thursday.
The teams have met only 13 times in Australia since Sri Lanka joined the ranks of Test nations and the home team has won 11 of those matches, the other two having been drawn.
Sri Lanka last toured Australia six years ago, losing that series, but when the teams last met in Sri Lanka in 2016, Sri Lanka won the series 3-0.
Those results point to the fact that both teams struggle in the other’s conditions. But the first day-night Test between the teams may have a leveling effect. Sri Lanka won it’s only previous day-night Test, against the West Indies in Barbados last year.
The visitors may also count in their favor the current instability in the Australia team. Australia’s Test lineup has been in a state of flux in recent years, a condition made worse by the suspensions for ball-tampering of captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft.
The national selectors have struggled to assemble a consistent Test unit in recent seasons, elevating and discarding some players with dizzying rapidity.
Fast bowler Jhye Richardson and batsmen Will Pucovski and Kurtis Patterson are in line for Test debuts and if all three are selected they will bring to 53 the number of debutants Australia has fielded in the last decade, more than twice the number of the previous 10 years.
Australia has used 63 players in Test matches since 2009 and 21 in the last year alone as Smith, Warner and Bancroft’s suspensions have added to a period of upheaval. That has often forced the selectors to call-up players from Australia’s domestic first class competition much earlier than in the past.
Pucovski, named in Australia’s Test squad at the age of 20 and after only eight first class matches, is competing with four others for three places in the Australia batting lineup.
Australia coach Justin Langer has admitted he has concerns about players being pushed too early into Test cricket.
“There’s always those considerations,” he said in a radio interview. “You weigh it up and it’s all that’s on your mind really. But (Pucovski) is a terrific young bloke.
Sri Lanka’s lineup has a more stable look, though it contains only three players who were involved in the previous series in Australia in 2012-2013. Injuries to Angelo Mathews and Nuwan Pradeep have removed some experience.
Sri Lanka’s batting lineup has a more tested look than Australia’s with Dimuth Karunaratne at the top of the order, to be followed by Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal.
Sri Lanka’s bowling resources should also not be under-estimated, led by the experienced Suranga Lakmal and including the greater pace of Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara, and Dushmantha Chameera. Australia’s pace attack has been hit with the withdrawal of Josh Hazlewood, who has a back injury.
In trying to beat Australia, Sri Lanka might adopt the blueprint of the India team which has just completed its first Test series win in Australia.
“It’s one of the major things we looked at, the areas which they had bowled,” Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake said. “It’s just making the bowlers believe that whatever their bowlers can do and the other teams can do, we also can do. That belief is something we are trying to work on at the moment.”