Maintaining very high standards

Brett Lee took his responsibilities as attack leader seriously throughout the game and his eight wickets earned him the man-of-the-match prize.-AP

Australia coped without Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer. The new-look outfit posted an intimidating victory in Brisbane to ensure a smooth transition. By Peter English.

Australia began their new era without three pillars, but the result of the regeneration was eerily similar as Sri Lanka were brushed away by an innings and 40 runs. Mahela Jayawardene’s side arrived with hope, but after losing Kumar Sangakkara in the opening practice game their balance was terminally disrupted and they were unable to deal with the all-round pressure from the hosts.

Glenn McGrath walked on to the ’Gabba on the first morning to present the debutant Mitchell Johnson with his baggy green, but when the action began Australia coped without him, Shane Warne and Justin Langer to ensure a wonderfully smooth initial transition. The ease of the comprehensive success did not surprise Ricky Ponting, who not only expected the three players who entered the team to perform as strongly as they did, but wanted the overall outfit to become better than the 2006-07 model.

“You can expect us to maintain some very high standards,” Ponting, who has led the team in 13 consecutive victories, said after the match. “The young guys have a chance to forge identities and hopefully we can keep this group together and stretch the gap between first and second in the world.”

The fresh faces he was referring to were Johnson and the opener Phil Jaques, who proved again that Australia’s first-class competition is the perfect breeding ground. Jaques had played two Tests as Langer’s understudy when he was called up to replace the Western Australian, and he must have felt as green as the surface when the ground staff rolled up the covers to reveal the pitch.

The strong colour persuaded Jayawardene to send Australia in and the conditions convinced him to leave out Lasith Malinga’s speed and retain Chaminda Vaas’s swing. Neither decision proved correct, as Jaques and Hayden dodged the trouble of the first morning and then set up a commanding first innings total. Patient as he waited 34 balls to score his first run, and purposeful as he struck 14 boundaries, Jaques showed he could belong at the top level with the sort of century Langer produced on days of extreme toughness.

Only when he was stumped charging a slower ball from Muttiah Muralitharan did Jaques not look Test class, but he could be forgiven the lapse after crafting 100 from 203 deliveries. By the end of the day batting was becoming a breeze for the Australians and when they returned the following morning Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey punished the Sri Lankans, taking the game away from them with a 245-run partnership. Hussey, who was dropped on 13, accumulated efficiently on the way to his sixth Test century in 17 matches and he achieved a remarkable feat by pushing his average above 80. It finished on 82.38 and the only owner of a better mean after 20 innings is Sir Donald Bradman.

“You can’t replace champions,” Hussey, who was not bothered by his statistics, said on the second evening. “But we’re still trying to raise the bar again and that comes down to the guys working collectively to raise their own games and our team to keep growing.”

Clarke has spent a lot of time reorganising his shot selection and he was rewarded with his third century since returning for the 2006-07 Ashes series. He set himself up with a cautious opening before turning on the attack, hitting Muralitharan for a six and a four off consecutive balls shortly before lunch. It was a symbolic move as well as a powerful one — the Australians know they have the off-spinner’s measure.

Muralitharan was restricted to two wickets in his chase of Warne’s world record of 708 and he will need seven in the second Test in Hobart to steal the mark on Australian soil. He was the best of the Sri Lankans, who missed Malinga and received a laboured performance from Dilhara Fernando.

Ponting’s declaration came at 551 for four and Sri Lanka were quickly in trouble as Sanath Jayasuriya fell to a doubtful caught-behind decision and Michael Vandort edged off Brett Lee before stumps. Lee took his responsibilities as attack leader seriously throughout the game and his eight wickets, which included thoughtful top-order breakthroughs and lower-order dismissals with sheer speed, earned him the Man-of-the-Match prize.

“He had a really mature outlook in this game,” Ponting said. “The way he has approached this role is fantastic.”

Lee was also a helping hand for Johnson, who picked up four wickets in an impressive debut. Along with Stuart MacGill, Johnson added crucial variation to Australia’s bowling and he was handed the new ball in the first innings, waiting eight overs to find his first wicket with the nick of Thilan Samaraweera. Only Marvan Atapattu was able to withstand the Australians for a significant period and he celebrated his first Test since 2005 with a half-century, which was followed by an angry attack on the team’s selectors.

“Sri Lanka cricket at this moment of time is not going in the direction it should be going, especially with a set of muppets headed by a joker,” Atapattu said. “I don’t give credit to the way they have handled selections. If they had handled selections properly we should have a good back-up team. For some reason we don’t and at the age of 37-38 people have to come and play for Sri Lanka when it comes to tough tours like this.”

After being bundled out for 211 in the first innings, Sri Lanka were again struggling in the second, giving credibility to Atapattu’s views. Fortunately for the visitors Jayawardene found a strong partner in Vandort, who was batting at No. 3 in the absence of Sangakkara, and they were able to hold off the home team during a 102-run stand. With rain a constant threat, the chances of Sri Lanka saving the game improved, but Jayawardene fell to Johnson one short of his half-century, and when Vandort’s admirable resistance ended on 82 — he became Stuart MacGill’s 200th Test victim when missing a big leg-spinner — only more wet weather could save them.

Australia returned on the fifth day to take the remaining five wickets and wrap up another intimidating victory shortly after lunch. “To lose by an innings is very hurtful,” Jayawardene said. “The way we batted in the first innings was the most disappointing. On a third-day Test wicket we should have fought much more. That’s where we lost the Test.” Sri Lanka’s loss was the new-look Australia’s impressive gain.

THE SCORES

First Test, Brisbane Cricket Ground, Woolloongabba. November 8-12, 2007. Australia won by an innings and 40 runs.

Australia — 1st innings: P. A. Jaques st. P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 100; M. L. Hayden c Muralitharan b Vaas 43; R. T. Ponting st P. Jayawardene b Muralitharan 56; M. E. K. Hussey c Atapattu b Fernando 133; M. J. Clarke (not out) 145; A. Symonds (not out) 53; Extras (b-4, lb-12, w-1, nb-4) 21. Total: (for 4 wkts decl.) 551.

Fall of wickets: 1-69, 2-183, 3-216, 4-461.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 28-6-102-1; Maharoof 34-6-107-0; Fernando 34-3-130-1; Muralitharan 50-4-170-2; Jayasuriya 4-0-18-0; Samaraweera 1-0-8-0.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: M. S. Atapattu c Jaques b Johnson 51; S. T. Jayasuriya c Gilchrist b Lee 7; M. G. Vandort c Gilchrist b Lee 0; M. Jayawardene c Gilchrist b Clark 14; T. Samaraweera c Gilchrist b Johnson 13; C. Silva c Clarke b Clark 40; P. Jayawardene lbw b Lee 37; F. Maharoof b Symonds 21; C. Vaas b MacGill 8; D. Fernando c Johnson b Lee 7; M. Muralitharan (not out) 6; Extras (lb-1, nb-6) 7. Total: 211.

Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-11, 3-45, 4-65, 5-119, 6-153, 7-181, 8-198, 9-198.

Australia bowling: Lee 17.5-9-26-4; Johnson 18-2-49-2; MacGill 25-5-79-1; Clark 16-4-46-2; Symonds 5-3-10-1.

Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: M. S. Atapattu c Gilchrist b Symonds 16; S. T. Jayasuriya c Ponting b Lee 39; M. G. Vandort b MacGill 82; M. Jayawardene c Gilchrist b Johnson 49; T. Samaraweera c Hussey b Johnson 20; C. Silva c Hussey b Lee 43; P. Jayawardene lbw Clark 1; F. Maharoof b Lee 18; C. Vaas (not out) 11; D. Fernando b Lee 4; M. Muralitharan b Clark 4; Extras (b-4, lb-3, nb-6) 13. Total: 300.

Fall of wickets: 1-53, 2-65, 3-167, 4-213, 5-215, 6-226, 7-259, 8-281, 9-290.

Australia bowling: Lee 27-7-86-4; Johnson 19-5-47-2; Clark 22.2-3-75-2; Symonds 6-1-21-1; MacGill 25-3-64-1.