ODI series preview: Sri Lanka vs Aussies


Australia, with just a couple of wins at the World Cup and a token series victory over Bangladesh to show for their past six months, have to serve up a dominant showing to justify their number-one ODI ranking.

<B>Overview</B><BR>The principal premise is a simple one, really. Australia, with just a couple of wins over Canada and Kenya at the World Cup and a token series victory over Bangladesh to show for their past six months, have to serve up a dominant showing to justify their number-one ODI ranking. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, close but no cigar in the World Cup final and not convincing enough against the English recently, will want to come up trumps in a resounding fashion at home.

So, it's to the major factors that will make up this intriguing piece we look.

The hosts, set to welcome back Upul Tharanga following an end to his three month ban, will do well to think hard before sticking the left-hander straight back into the XI. Mahela Jayawardene has performed superbly at the top of the knock in Tharanga's absence, and with Sri Lanka's middle order beefed up by the presence of Angelo Mathews, perhaps it's worth leaving the former captain to partner Tillakaratne Dilshan for the first game or two. Should that not work out, well then the door is open for the left-hander's return.

Life after Muttiah Muralitharan looms large for the sub-continental big guns, who are being wise in not looking to force and outright replacement for the veteran spinner. Instead, Ajantha Mendis – for his success in the weekend's T20Is – will lead a slow-bowling attack lined with promising slow bowlers. Who will ultimately step up of the four – Ajantha, Jeevan Mendis, Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv – will need longer than a five-ODI series to decide, but this month's affair in Pallekele and surrounds will certainly offer the brains trust some clarity to the future.

This is Angelo Mathews' time to shine. Robbed by injury and forced to take a back seat to fellow all-rounders Thisara Perera and Farveez Maharoof in England, the peripheral responsibility of the vice-captaincy and will to successfully nurture uncapped all-rounder Shaminda Eranga into the fold – and his duty with bat and ball – affords the 24-year-old plenty of opportunity to solidify the loads of leadership potential he has delivered across his short international career.

Over in the visitors' camp, back-to-back defeats in the T20Is have hardly given this new-look Aussie unit a sound start. They were thoroughly outplayed in Pallekele – the same venue for Wednesday's first ODI – and now Michael Clarke and his fresh ranks are forced to make up for Cameron White and company's failure before embarking on the first steps to their own right of passage.

The focus on Clarke's captaincy – and exactly how it will hold up if things don't get off to the grooviest of starts in Pallekele – will be under the spotlight this week. Freed by Ricky Ponting to lead his way, 'Pup' can't have is primary role with the bat fall short to his duties at the helm of the team. A lack of runs will quickly have questions hanging over the decision to upgrade his deal with Cricket Australia, while a string of good knocks will certainly ease the pressure of having to maintain the number-one ODI ranking in trying conditions away from home.

Ponting, meanwhile, faces a near do-or-die situation in Sri Lanka. No longer spared of the axe by his captaincy armband, the right-hander must deliver consistently to stave off the advances of the numerous greenhorns waiting in the wings.

Australia's spin merry-go-round is at a standstill, for now. Steven O'Keefe made up the numbers in the T20Is and Nathan Lyon and Michael Beer await their chance in the Tests, leaving Xavier Doherty to front the turners for the ODIs. Not long ago the nation's 'next big thing' in terms of slow bowlers, the left-armer – post-Ashes and injury – will want to re-sprout the skills that brought him into the frame originally. Goodness knows he won't find more fitting conditions to do so in.

Steven Smith, well, seems more of a batting option than anything else these days. Through his own lack of control and the selectors' careless approach to the leg-spinner, his confidence will in need of a boost. A couple of good spells will do him the world of good and Clarke must keep this in mind when rifling through options in Sri Lanka. Coach Tim Nielsen has pinpointed Smith for a long-term role in the side, so knowing that the 22-year-old, can turn his arm relatively pressure free. On a fast-bowling front, Mitchell Johnson's stock continues to fall, but Doug Bollinger's return from injury and the arrival of James Pattinson boost the seam ranks. John Hastings, able to hit the deck hard, will surely come into first-choice contention soon.

All in all, this is a superb second take to the rivals' World Cup washout, with much more than a one-off to prove who is the world's best ODI team regardless of injury or a fresh approach to selection.

<B>Key Men</B><BR><I>Sri Lanka:</i> Hot on the heels of his record haul in the second T20I, <B>Ajantha Mendis</B> finds himself thrust to the front of the spin ranks and in need of a mature, consistent series alongside the other slow bowlers.

<I>Australia:</i> <B>Michael Hussey</B>, shy of the backing of the selectors earlier this year, has a point to prove. The left-hander appears to be in a head-to-head battle with his brother, David, for the number-five batting berth.

<B>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</B><BR>November, 2010: Third ODI: Australia won by eight wickets<BR>November, 2010: Second ODI: Sri Lanka won by 29 runs<BR>November, 2010: First ODI: Sri Lanka won by one wicket<BR>February, 2008: Tri-Series: Sri Lanka won by 13 runs<BR>February, 2008: Tri-Series: Australia won by 24 runs

<B>Prediction</B><BR>Despite their number-one ODI bill, it's hard to see Australia outgunning a Sri Lanka squad lavished with all-round talent in their own backyard. While the hosts are unlikely to fetch the four-one – or better – series win they need to topple the Aussies at the helm of the one-day championship, they'll surely rack up a comfortable victory.

Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> has Sri Lanka at 5/6 odds in the <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>betting</B></a> for the first ODI. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket betting.

<B>Probable Teams</B><BR><I>Sri Lanka:</i> Tillakaratne Dilshan (captain), Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews (vice-captain), Nuwan Kulasekara, Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Suraj Randiv.

<I>Australia:</i> Shane Watson (vice-captain), Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (captain), Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Steven Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Xavier Doherty, Brett Lee, Doug Bollinger.

<B>Fixtures</B><BR>First ODI: 10 August, Pallekele<BR>Second ODI: 14 August, Hambantota<BR>Third ODI: 16 August, Hambantota<BR>Fourth ODI: 20 August, Colombo<BR>Fifth ODI: 22 August, Colombo