COLOMBO, (Reuters) – The return of Ricky Ponting following the birth of his daughter and Ryan Harris’s hamstring injury have caused a selection dilemma for Australia as they aim to heap more misery on hosts Sri Lanka in the third and final test.
After winning the first test at Galle by 125 runs, Australia looked poised to wrap up the series with victory in Pallakele but were stopped in their tracks by rain and bad light.
Michael Clarke’s men watched on in frustration as their hard work amounted to nothing and now feel they have unfinished business at the Singhalese Sports Club starting tomorrow.
Pace spearhead Harris had been in destructive form, claiming 11 wickets in the series at an impressive average of 14.54, but will almost certainly miss the final match after limping off injured in Pallakele. Scans revealed he was suffering from a minor hamstring strain.
“There’s always been concerns about Rhino’s fitness because unfortunately he’s dealt with a few injuries throughout his career,” said Clarke.
“He’s a very strong bloke and he’ll do anything to get on the park. He’s a wonderful player to have in your team, not just the way he bowls, he’s got plenty of talent with the bat.
“He’s as good as any fast bowler in the world in the field. And he brings a lot to the team as a guy. He’s one of those guys you want in your team. He’s having a big impact in this series.”
Harris’s absence would be a serious blow for Australia. Should he be ruled out either Peter Siddle, who has not played in the series, or James Pattinson, who has impressed with his pace and swing, are likely to replace him.
The Australians also have a batting headache to sort out with the return of former captain Ponting, who missed the second test to return home for the birth of his second child.
His replacement, Shaun Marsh, made an instant mark by scoring a century on his test debut.
Hence Australian selectors now have to decide how to make the best use of the batting talent at their disposal.
While Ponting has a proven track record, scoring 39 test tons over his 16-year career, he has recently been going through a lean spell and has not scored a century in five-day cricket for 20 months.
Since Marsh has flourished in the flat Sri Lankan conditions, leaving him out does not seem like a sensible option so the axe is likely to fall on opener Phil Hughes whose highest score in the series is 36.
Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan said that his team still had a chance of drawing the series if the weather stays fine.
Scattered showers have fallen in Colombo over the past few days and weather forecasts suggest there could be frequent interruptions to the test.
“We didn’t bat well in the first innings and that’s why we’re behind in this series,” said Dilshan referring to his team’s failure to score more than 175 runs in the opening innings of each test. “We told all the players to believe in themselves and in their own game. If we were in a negative frame of mind, with three failed innings, we’re not going to do any better. We just have to give them the confidence,” Dilshan added.
“It’s really disappointing that we cannot win the test series but we still have a chance to draw it. As players, we must grab that opportunity in both hands and if we can do that, it’s really good.”
The test will also mark former captain Kumar Sangakkara’s 100th test appearance.
“It’s a great achievement. It’s not easy to play 100 matches, especially test cricket. If we can win the test, I think that’s going to be a good gift for Sanga,” said Dilshan.