Australia v Sri Lanka First T20I
Friday February 17, 7:40pm AEDT
On Friday night Australia will host Sri Lanka in the first of a three match T20I series, with the MCG the venue for the series opener.
With Australia’s test squad in India, the selectors have been forced to call on a largely second-string squad with the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood all unavailable. Former skipper Aaron Finch has been named interim captain and looks set to open the batting with veteran Michael Klinger who will remarkably make his international debut at the ripe age of 36.
However Klinger is far from the only seasoned pro in the squad with keeper-batsman Tim Paine set to play his first match in national colours since 2011, while NSW captain Moises Henriques has also earned a call-up. Powerful left-hander Ben Dunk represents another older head in the side, although he was only brought in as a replacement for the injured Chris Lynn despite finishing this season’s BBL as the highest run-scorer.
The bowling attack has a greener look to it with Perth Scorchers youngsters Jhye Richardson and Ashton Turner in line for their debuts, while towering quick Billy Stanlake and leg-spinner Adam Zampa are both only in the early stages of their international careers.
The death bowling duties will likely fall to Andrew Tye and James Faulkner who will be under pressure to keep his spot as the bowling all-rounder after the selectors overlooked BBL top wicket-taker Sean Abbott. The hosts will be hoping to boost their lowly ranking of fifth on the ICC rankings with a comprehensive series victory.
However Australia are unlikely to have it all their own way, with the Sri Lankans coming off an impressive 2-1 series win away to South Africa. The stars of that series were opening batsman Niroshan Dickwella, whose 68 in the deciding match guided his side home, and left-arm chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan who finished with combined figures of 5/46 off eight overs and has previously troubled Australia during their test series in Sri Lanka last year.
Unfortunately for the visitors captain Angelo Mathews has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, allowing the experienced Upal Tharanga to take over the leadership reigns ahead of the returning Lasith Malinga.
Experienced campaigners Dinesh Chandimal and Suranga Lakmal have been omitted from the squad, with recalls for Chamara Kapugedara and Dasun Shanaka, while fast-bowler Vikum Sanjaya will be hoping to make his first appearance at international level.
After failing to fire against the Proteas, talented batsman Kusal Mendis will be looking to recapture the form he showed against the Aussies in that test series where his innings of 176 changed the course of the entire tour. With the ball the Sri Lankans look set to lean heavily on spin with Sandakan supported by leg-spinner Seekkuge Prasanna as well as slow-bowling all-rounders Sachith Pathirana, Dilshan Munaweera and Milinda Siriwardana.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
During this season’s Big Bash League the average first innings score at the MCG was 7/154, making it one of the lower-scoring grounds during the tournament. The side batting second won three out of four matches, while spinners conceded runs at just 6.95 an over compared to the quicks who leaked runs at 8.23 an over.
- Australia have won six of their past eight T20Is.
- However Australia have lost their last three T20Is at home.
- Sri Lanka have won only two of their past nine T20Is.
- However Sri Lanka have won five of their past seven T20Is against Australia.
Despite missing a significant portion of their first-choice XI, Australia have been installed as heavy favourites against an unfancied Sri Lankan outfit.
It’s hard to justify how Australia can start such warm favourites in their least favourite format, especially considering they are missing more than half of their full-strength squad. Even when the likes of Smith, Warner and Starc have been available, the Aussies have failed to scale the heights in T20I cricket as evidenced by their relatively lowly ICC ranking of fifth.
Recently they have shown some signs of improvement, however their record at home stands in stark contrast to their dominance down under in the test and ODI arena. Strategically international T20 cricket is a low priority for the Australian side and while a fresh squad should ensure plenty of enthusiasm, they have some way to go to match the experience and quality absent in India.
Granted Sri Lanka are far from T20I powerhouses, with their ICC ranking as low as eighth, while consecutive wins over South Africa snapped a seven-match losing streak. However that series win over the Proteas will give them enormous confidence, especially considering that it was achieved against quality opposition on pitches similar to those that they will face in Australia.
The loss of skipper Mathews is a considerable blow, but is somewhat offset by the return of the mercurial Malinga, while their record against the Aussies in this format is tough to overlook. Furthermore, conditions in Melbourne should suit their side, especially their bowling attack which is laden with slower bowlers who proved particularly effective here during the BBL.
All things considered I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to take this Australia price on, however given Sri Lanka’s inconsistency in this format I will look to trade out and lock in a healthy profit.
LAY-TO-BACK – Australia at 1.36 or better for 2 units (trade out at 1.85 or bigger).