Desperate skipper grabs a win

IF YOU were watching the Australia-Sri Lanka Test in the over before the last-day tea break you could have legitimately questioned captain Michael Clarke's level of desperation to win. Only twice before in Australia's Test history had a wicketkeeper been asked to bowl, as Matthew Wade did - surprisingly competently - at Clarke's request.

On the other side of the tea break, however, there was nothing flippant about the injured Clarke's tactics, as almost every Australian fielder was in a catching position.

With the concession of runs to Sri Lanka not really a factor - it needed to score above 5½ runs an over in the last session to reach its target of 393 - Australia's only focus was securing the six wickets needed to avoid its worst start to a Test summer in 26 years.

At tea Sri Lanka was 4-186, with its best batsmen Kumar Sangakkara (63) and captain Mahela Jayawardene (19) both out. The more pertinent issue was that there were only 36 overs due to be bowled in the last session.

If Sri Lanka had survived it would have been the first time Australia had failed to win any of its first four Tests of a home summer since 1986-87, when it recorded two losses and two draws against England.

Sri Lanka, desperate to salvage a draw like South Africa did in Adelaide last month, fought hard but lost 6-69 to be all out for 255 in the 120th over.

The 137-run win meant that although Australia will advance to the Boxing Day Test without Ben Hilfenhaus due to injury, and possibly Clarke for the same reason, it will go with a 1-0 series lead and a chance to retain the Warne-Muralidaran Trophy at the MCG.

Peter Siddle reinforced his status as the best bowler in the match, and Australia's pace leader, to claim a four-wicket haul for match figures of 9-104 but was denied his maiden 10-wicket haul by a devastating late spell from Mitch Starc, who claimed 5-63 with great pace.

The visitors began after tea with their last recognised batsmen, Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews, at the crease, respectively on 38 and 11.

In the fourth over the home team received a significant boost when vice-captain Mathews meekly wafted at a ball from Siddle and delivered a simple catch to Wade, who had reclaimed the wicketkeeping gloves. It ended the partnership between he and Samaraweera on 50.

While the wicket of Mathews seemingly heralded the start of the Sri Lankan tail the confident start of keeper Prasanna Jayawardene was a reminder that his partnership with Samaraweera had the potential to be crucial. Within 10 overs, however, both batsmen were back in the dressing rooms.

In the 102nd over of the innings Siddle angled a ball into the pads of Samaraweera that moved even further off the pitch to beat the right-hander's inside edge. Samaraweera, as Sri Lanka's last specialist batsman, unsurprisingly challenged umpire Nigel Llong's leg-before decision but lost, which also exhausted Sri Lanka's allocation. It also left him one run short of a half-century.

When Siddle was finally given a break in the 108th over, after bowling his 51st over for the match, left-armer Starc made his biggest contribution for the match. He removed Jayawardene (21) and tailenders Kulasekera (9), Rangana Herath (8) and Shaminda Eranga (6) in a spell too menacing for the calibre of batsmen he was bowling to.

Earlier, Sri Lanka started day five brightly after resuming at 2-65, with Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene navigating their team safely to drinks 65 minutes into the session at 2-110.

Australia's only breakthrough came in the second over after drinks when Jayawardene pushed hard at a delivery outside off-stump from Siddle and offered an edge, which was superbly taken at first slip by Clarke. The injured captain's elation at claiming the ankle-high chance was evident in his celebration. It also contrasted greatly with the straightforward chance he spilled late on day four from Sangakkara off the bowling of Nathan Lyon.

Australia turned - unsuccessfully - to the part-time leg-spin of David Warner in an attempt to make a further breakthrough.

Sri Lanka received a significant boost 10 minutes before the break when Sangakkara, then on 54, was given out after he attempted to pull Shane Watson to the leg-side but was struck on the pads when the ball kept low. Umpire Llong's decision was overturned on appeal, with the replay showing left-handed Sangakkara had been struck outside the line of off-stump by Watson, who was bowling around the wicket.

The visitors got another boost in the fourth over after lunch when Samaraweera was adjudged leg-before to Siddle by Llong for 18.

Samaraweera's decision to challenge was vindicated when the replay suggested he had been struck just outside the line of off-stump.

Siddle's - and the Australian team's - frustration would have been eased in his next over when the resilient paceman trapped Sangakkara leg-before with a good-length delivery that pitched on the left-hander's leg-stump.

Sangakkara's review was futile as he ball was predicted to hit middle-stump about 10 centimetres below the top, forcing the veteran's departure for 63.

In the remaining 18 overs of the middle session, which included two rain delays, Clarke used all of his specialist bowlers and also employed the second new ball, without reward. In the last over before the break he took the drastic step of getting wicketkeeper Wade to bowl his previously unseen right-arm mediums, with Phillip Hughes temporarily taking the gloves. In the last session, however, he did not have to rely on unorthodoxy to secure his team's first win of the summer.

Australia (1st Innings) 5-450 decl.

Sri Lanka (1st Innings) 336

Australia (2nd Innings) 278

Sri Lanka (2nd Innings - overnight 2-87)
T DILSHAN c Wade b Watson 11
K SANGAKKARA lbw b Siddle 63
M JAYAWARDENE c Clarke b Siddle 19
T SAMARAWEERA lbw b Siddle 49
A MATHEWS c Wade b Siddle 19
P JAYAWARDENE c Hussey b Starc 21
N KULASEKARA c Wade b Starc 9
R HERATH b Starc 8
S ERANGA c Wade b Starc 6
C WELEGEDARA not out 0
Sundries (10b, 8lb, 1w, 1nb) 20
Total 255
Fall of wickets: 26 (Dilshan), 47 (Karunaratne), 112 (M Jayawardene), 151 (Sangakkara), 201 (Mathews), 218 (Samaraweera), 235 (P Jayawardene), 247 (Kulasekara), 250 (Herath), 255 (Eranga)
Bowling: M Starc 28.2-7-63-5 (1w 1nb), P Siddle 26-11-50-4, S Watson 27-6-54-1, N Lyon 32-12-57-0, M Hussey 1-0-5-0, D Warner 4-0-8-0, M Wade 1-1-0-0
Result: Australia won by 137 runs
Series: Australia lead the three-test series 1-0

This story Desperate skipper grabs a win first appeared on WA Today.