Sri Lanka won’t go down in this two-Test series without a fight, causing Australia major headaches on day two in Galle to set-up a thrilling final three days.
The hosts reached stumps at 2-184, reducing the deficit to Australia — who lost 5-35 in the first session — to just 180 runs.
Scroll down for our Talking Points from day two of the second Test!
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DAY TWO REPORT: Late Swepson magic spares Aussie blushes as Sri Lanka surge gains momentum
MATCH CENTRE: Australia vs Sri Lanka, second Test, live scoreboard
AUSTRALIA MUST PREPARE FOR FAMILIAR DOGFIGHT
Days of cricket against Australia rarely get close to being this faultless.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka took 5-66 with the ball, and then posted 184 with the bat for the loss of just two wickets.
It now sits just 180 runs off the lead with eight wickets in hand — remarkable when you consider Australia started the day at 5-298.
Yet, there is not need to be overly dramatic about Australia’s chances in Galle from here. Test cricket is won over five days and this match is still only two days old.
Australia will now, however, be properly tested in Sri Lanka having been virtually handed a walkover in the first Test.
Some might have thought Sri Lanka would roll over again given its limp display in the first Test, and the amount of Covid-related absences it has had to endure.
But you can’t underestimate the humiliation felt from that 10-wicket loss within seven sessions, and the desperation to restore pride Sri Lanka has felt since.
From here, Sri Lanka might do far more than just restore pride.
Its top-order has appropriately valued its wickets, playing a patient game in the face of well-disciplined bowling, before Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis seized their opportunities in a brilliant final session, barring a late slip.
It should be said that Saturday provided the easiest batting conditions we’ve seen this series, and Australia missed a handful of half-chances, such as Swepson’s dropped return catch off Karunaratne who he eventually dismissed.
Even so, it has been a massive turnaround for Sri Lanka from being bundled out for 212 and 113 in the first Test.
Whatever it takes from here for Australia to win, it will involve time and patience.
Pat Cummins burnt a review on a speculative chance in the 45th over in a signal of some early desperation from Australia, that struggled to produce clear-cut chances.
Luckily, Cummins won’t have to cast his mind too far back after play in trying to find the winning formula.
Searching for wickets was as gruelling as it got in Pakistan earlier this year, when Australia finally clinched the series in the final session of the final day of the final Test.
The wicket for the final Test in Lahore started to spin big late in the encounter before Australia took five wickets in the final session to win.
The wicket in Galle will spin big, too — and it’s Sri Lanka that has to bat last.
Australia might’ve started the day with hopes of batting Sri Lanka out of the series (more on this late), but it might have to settle for a dogfight instead.
STRANGE SWEPSON TACTIC TO CAUSE DEBATE
The job for Australia did become that little bit easier shortly before stumps thanks to Swepson conjuring some magic out of nothing.
Karunaratne had hardly put a foot wrong all session, and it wasn’t until a century, and stumps, came into sight that he stumbled.
Funny things happen late, which is why it was no surprise to see Swepson with his tail up late in the day despite the mounting Sri Lankan total.
What was a surprise, however, was how sparingly the leg-spinner had been used by Cummins.
At the time of the wicket, Swepson was only bowling his seventh over of the 56-over-old innings. He also hadn’t been used since the 43rd over.
Nonetheless, Cummins will argue that he was used at just the right time, coming on for himself and taking just four balls to produce a crucial breakthrough wicket.
The ball skidded on towards the stumps and Karunaratne erred by trying to clip the delivery onside. He ended up as plumb as they come, although he still burnt a review on his way back to the sheds.
Others might argue that Swepson could’ve produced more had he simply been used more.
Either way, we might see Swepson afforded some longer spells on day three after his late impact.
SMITH, MARNUS MASK WORRYING ISSUE
To only reach 364, having been 5-298 overnight and then 5-329 in the 98th over, was a disappointing end to the Australian innings that set the tone for the day.
The tourists were guilty of taking their foot off Sri Lanka’s throat when a golden opportunity presented itself to bat Sri Lanka out of the game, and thus, out of the series.
Now Sri Lanka has made the most of favourable batting conditions on day two — which Australia missed out on — to set-up an exciting final three days.
Alex Carey had laid the groundwork early on day two for a big partnership with Steve Smith that would have taken the tourists to a daunting total.
And then it all went pear-shaped, much to the bemusement of Smith at the other end.
Carey’s ill-judged reverse sweep on 28 exposed the tail but, even so, Australia’s tail isn’t normally the easiest to roll through.
Except it was on Saturday when Mitchell Starc was gone for one, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon both for five, and Swepson for three.
Smith was left stranded on 145 at a time he looked determined to post a massive score.
His shake of the head as he left the pitch said it all. A big chance had been wasted both for Australia, and for him.
On a far trickier wicket in the first Test, Australia grinded its way to 321.
That Australia only made an extra 43 runs in more predictable conditions will be of some disappointment to the tourists, and will ring alarm bells for next year’s India tour.
Outside of the contributions of Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, and extras, Australia’s other nine batters made just 100 runs.
Sri Lanka’s chief destroyer was a player on debut, Prabath Jayasuriya, who took 6-118 with his left-arm orthodox.
Those struggles against Jayasuriya in particular will be keenly noted by India, where Australia will tour in February and March next year for a blockbuster series.
SMITH BACK ABOVE MAGICAL MARK
Australia’s late flop with the bat was at least good for one thing.
With a not out asterisk next to his 145 in Galle, Smith’s Test average will stay back above the magical 60.00 mark — at least until his next innings.
How much Smith himself obsesses over the mark only he knows, but it does feel like the tipping point that separates the right-hander from being a Test legend to being a Bradman-like marvel.
Including Smith and Bradman, only seven Test batters have ever averaged more than 60 (1,000 run minimum). Smith and Adam Voges are the only players to have done it in the past 50 years, although the latter scored 1,485 runs compared to Smith’s 8,161.
Only Bradman has made more Test runs at a better average, albeit in a completely different era.
Over the span of Smith’s 18-month century drought — that was finally broken on Friday — Smith’s average had dipped across the elite barrier into the fifties.
The right-hander was always expected to bounce back, but 16 innings with no centuries and only one score above 85 was more pain than most thought he’d endure.
Favourable batting conditions in Pakistan were hoped to change Smith’s fortunes, but he failed to convert three-consecutive half centuries.
In the first Test against Sri Lanka, his woes deepened after a mix-up with Usman Khawaja saw him run-out cheaply for six.
No wonder he looked determined for the second Test — even by the intense standards of Smith who will feel like he’s back where he belongs.
DID AUSSIES MISS A TRICK WITH MAXWELL?
The day before the second Test, Cummins threw out the surprising possibility of Glenn Maxwell playing despite a big first match win.
In that interview, he spoke about the importance of finding an “extra 20-30 runs” in spinning conditions.
Australia would certainly like an extra 30 runs now after Sri Lanka pulled itself right into the contest.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Maxwell would have delivered those extra 20-30 runs, but the benefit of hindsight allows us to rule that his selection might’ve been a savvy move.
Maxwell’s potential inclusion placed Mitchell Starc under threat with Australia weighing up the possibility of taking in only Cummins and Cameron Green as pace options.
The thinking was that Maxwell could provide 15-20 overs of quality spin and also a meaningful contribution with the bat.
On day two, Starc lasted just eight balls, and scored one run in a brief stay. With the ball, he made an early breakthrough for Australia but was otherwise made to toil away with little reward.
It’s hard to imagine that Maxwell wouldn’t have provided as much of an impact on Saturday.
The fact is, Australia would be in genuine trouble this Test if not for the batting contributions of Smith and Labuschagne.
The pair were responsible for 249 of Australia’s runs, while middle-order batters Travis Head (12), Cameron Green and Alex Carey (28) all missed out, and the tail scored just 14 runs.
Head making room for Maxwell is another route that, in hindsight, looks strong.
True, Head took 4-10 in an incredible three-over spell in the first Test, but he is struggling with the bat, while it’s not his role to provide big wicket hauls. Indeed, he wasn’t even called on to bowl inside the first 40 overs of Sri Lanka’s innings, and he went on to bowl just three overs for the day.
The left-hander is now averaging just 24.93 outside of Australia from 11 Tests, while Maxwell is a known strong player of spin who boasts a century in India in 2017, as well as a first class average with the bat of 39.81.
His bowling in one-day cricket has also been impressive, with Maxwell a regular wicket-taker through last month’s white ball games against Sri Lanka.