Australia drop Johnson, Sri Lanka to make do without Malinga
HOBART: Australia have dropped Mitchell Johnson for the first test against Sri Lanka and selected just three seamers for the match on what is expected to be a lively wicket at the Bellerive Oval this week as the tourists are without Lasith Malinga.
Spinner Nathan Lyon was retained in the side announced by skipper Michael Clarke on Thursday, with Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and Ben Hilfenhaus making up the pace bowling unit for the match.
Left-armer Johnson, the 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year, played his first Test in a year in the 309-run defeat to South Africa in Perth last week but was named 12th man for the Hobart test, which begins on Friday.
“Obviously a tough selection getting 12 down to 11, especially with the way that Mitchell bowled in Perth, but this is the team we’ve selected for this test match,” Clarke to a news conference.
“At the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s best for the Australian team, you have to pick the best 11 players to help you win the Test match.
“It’s a nice problem to have when you’ve got 12 players that really want to play and have performed well, but unfortunately someone has to miss.
“Mitchell will be fine, he’ll have to work hard and wait for another opportunity and try to grab it with both hands.”
Tasmanian Hilfenhaus and Siddle were recalled after being rested for the third test against the Proteas, while Starc gets his reward for his performance in Perth, where he took 6-154.
Clarke said the inclusion of 22-year-old Starc was based on the requirements of the Hobart test alone, not an attempt to give him a good run before back-to-back Ashes series against England next year.
“For me, I’m not looking at the Ashes at all. The reason that Starc is there is because he’s been next in line in the queue for a while,” Clarke said.
“He’s performed really well in the shorter form of the game for Australia. He got one test in Perth and got six-for and 70-odd with the bat so that’s not a bad start as well.”
Clarke also confirmed that Australia had re-jigged their batting order after the retirement of Ricky Ponting following the Perth Test against South Africa.
Former opener Shane Watson will move down the order from three to four, allowing recalled lefthander Phil Hughes to slot in behind the opening partnership, where he has also played most of his first class cricket.
“The strength and advantage we now have in our top four is that all four have opened the batting for Australia,” said Clarke.
“So against the new ball they will be very well suited … I believe that if we lose early wickets we’re very capable against the new ball, which is a real positive.”
Sri Lanka have never won a Test in Australia but the hosts lost on their last visit to Hobart, falling to New Zealand on home soil for the first time in a quarter of a century last year.
Sri Lanka do not expect Lasith Malinga to make a dramatic return in the series against Australia, captain Mahela Jayawardene said.
Malinga, who retired from Test cricket earlier this year, gave a reminder of what a devastating bowler he can be by taking six wickets for seven runs in Australia’s domestic Twenty20 tournament on Wednesday.
Jayawardene named a largely unheralded trio of seamers in his team for the first test and said it was unrealistic to ask the 29-year-old to return to the test arena.
“I think Lasith has made up his mind,” he said.
“With the injuries he has had over the last couple of years, I think it’s unfair to ask him to come and play test cricket.
“He’s in our one-day team and Twenty20 team and he’s contributing a lot. Do we risk all that? Test cricket is about bowling 20-25 overs, (Australia’s) Peter Siddle the other day bowled 60.
In Malinga’s absence, Nuwan Kulasekara, Chanaka Welegedera and Shaminda Eranga were the trio named to try to make the most of what is expected to be a lively Hobart track.
Jayawardene defended his bowlers against the charge that they were the worst pace attack ever to tour Australia.
“Teams have to start somewhere, we’ve lost some fast bowlers in the past and some to injury,” he said.
“This is an attack which is different, we probably don’t have the pace that you think is required to win test matches in Australia.
“But we’ve got guys who will bowl a good line and length and create opportunities and if we do that, we’ve got a chance.”
Dimuth Karunaratne was also included as an opener after scoring an unbeaten 60 on debut in the first test against New Zealand in Galle last month.
The 24-year-old lefthander replaces 30-year-old Tharanga Paranavitana, who scored 40 and nought in the second test against the Black Caps in Colombo, which the tourists won.
“We’ve made a call on Dimuth Karunaratne as opener, we think he deserves the chance with the way he’s gone about things,” Jayawardene added.
“It’s a call the selectors and management are happy about and he will open the batting with (Tillakaratne) Dilshan.”
Dilshan, along with Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera, forms a core of veteran test batsmen who are expected to give Sri Lanka their best chance of grabbing a first ever test win in Australia.
“We’ll bank on the experience in our batting,” said Jayawardene, who announced he would be stepping down as captain after the tour.
“To win a test match, the most important thing is to put runs on the board. We need to score runs and give our bowlers a chance to take 20 wickets.
“If we can achieve that, I think we have a chance.”
The series concludes with Tests in Melbourne and Sydney.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekara, Chanaka Welegedera, Shaminda Eranga, Rangana Herath.
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Shane Watson, Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Ben Hilfenhaus, Nathan Lyon.