Slippery fingers aggravate Sri Lanka's torrid day

Joe Burns was dropped at slip
Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Canberra, 1st day February 01, 2019

It's not easy being green. Just ask Kermit the Frog or the Sri Lanka fast bowlers. For with just five Tests and 14 Test wickets between Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando and Chamika Karunaratne it was always likely to be a major challenge for Sri Lanka's attack, whittled bare by injuries, to run through Australia's attack on what was touted to be a dream batting track.

And yet, for the first hour of play, under cloudy Canberra skies, it was some of the Australia batsmen who were made to look a little muppet-like. While Marnus Labuschagne was undone by an excellent ball from Karunaratne that nibbled and nipped off the seam just enough to catch the edge, Marcus Harris and especially Usman Khawaja will surely wince whenever they are forced to watch replays of their dismissals. To see Joe Burns and Travis Head fill their boots for the rest of the first day only made their departures seem more reckless.

More experienced bowlers would perhaps have better pressed the early advantage and bowled tight lines and patient lengths but, perhaps overtaken by eagerness, Sri Lanka pushed and were punished for searching for the wicket balls.

As it transpired, the gentle outswingers that had wreaked havoc on Australia's top order in the morning became mild fodder for Burns and Head. The quickest deliveries from Sri Lanka in the early spell had touched 136 kph but, without the assistance of new-ball swing - more than has been on offer throughout the Australian summer - there was a bluntness to the inexperienced attack.

"The ball was moving around a little bit in the morning," Karunaratne said. "After the first session it got flatter and slow. The areas we bowled were short and we need to rectify that. We bowled every over a boundary ball. That needs to be stopped.

"I gave away too much runs and am not happy with it. It wasn't my best. I am hoping to do better tomorrow. If we can get them out cheaply and keep them below 450 then that's good.

"First session of the game the ball moved around. We took three early wickets and I thought we were trying to get too many wickets from there on. The pace dropped then and it stopped seaming around. We hope to put up a better show tomorrow.

"Inexperience was an issue but we cannot give excuses. When you're representing your country you have to give a hundred percent. You can't say it's because of inexperience."

If anyone could be given an excuse it was the debutant, Karunaratne, whose sporting background is intriguing. He comes from a family of talented badminton players - along with his three brothers he has represented Sri Lanka in the sport and was ranked number two in the country three years ago. A strong performance with bat and ball rather than racquet and shuttlecock for Sri Lanka A against Ireland last month - he took three wickets and made an unbeaten 100 - earned him a call-up when Lahiru Kumara suffered a hamstring injury. He arrived in Australia early on Thursday morning and when Suranga Lakmal became the next fast bowler to succumb to injury - a stiff back - Karunaratne was presented his cap.

Arguably the key moment arrived during a spell of offspin, Dilruwan Perera coming around the wicket and drawing a hard edge from Burns only for Dhananjaya de Silva, perhaps standing a little too close in the slips, to put down a sharp chance. Such shoulda-woulda-coulda moments are common enough in Test cricket, but to have Australia four down before lunch would have at the very least been hugely encouraging for the visitors.

Poor fielding hardly helped; while there were some balls frustratingly just out of reach of the fielders, four drops in total highlighted a dismal day in the field. Head was dropped twice on his way to 161 while Kurtis Patterson was given a life off the first delivery he faced, a regulation bat-pad chance mangled by Lahiru Thirimanne at short leg.

"We put down four catches," Karunaratne said. "When we had things under control we [could have] dismissed Burns and then they would have been four for 80. It was disappointing. The focus was not there but we don't drop catches purposely."

No one does; but they pay the price nonetheless.

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