Australia exit with reminder of their spin struggles

10 September 2016
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The middle-order wobble against spin in the second T20 will give the Australians plenty to ponder on their journey home

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

Fittingly, or perhaps inevitably, Australia's tour of Sri Lanka ended in hauntingly similar fashion to the manner in which it started.

After a setback at the coin toss the visiting bowlers had set up the game by skittling the home team for a sub-par score.

Only to see a succession of batters lose their way against spin bowling as they, engulfed amid a cascade of wickets, battled to see from where their next run might be stolen.

The significant deviation to the script that had played out with such repetition during the Test matches was the final result.

Although the eventual scope of Australia's clean sweep of the two-match T20 Series that followed their emphatic ODI triumph – four wickets with barely two overs to spare – was a lot skinnier than it should have been.

Nervy Aussies seal T20 series sweep

And could scarcely have been foreseen midway through the nominal run chase, when the tourists were 0-91 and scoring at better than 10 an over in pursuit of 129.

With an early night beckoning.

But just when Australia's batters and brainstrust felt they had exorcised the worst of the wobbles against spin on pitches custom-made to facilitate that craft, the nightmare returned.

Like that irritating cough you just can't shake.

And while coach Darren Lehmann was quick to laud the efforts of white-ball specialists the ilk of George Bailey, Aaron Finch and Matthew Wade for turning the tide in the ODI phase of the tour, it's just as safe accredit the clean sweep of the 20-over games to the sole T20 consultant, Glenn Maxwell.

Who scored more runs – 211 at the same average – from less innings played on Sri Lankan soil than did specialist batters Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Moises Henriques and Adam Voges.

Magical Maxwell smashes record half-century

There is no correlation between the Test failures and the scenarios Maxwell faced at the top of the innings in a pair of T20 matches, where more unpopulated space extended beyond the 30-yard fielding circle in the initial overs.

However, the dramatic change that descended on Australia's headlong charge to victory once Maxwell departed – the crash of six wickets for 27 in eight-and-a-half overs which represented more of a full face plant than a stumble – indicated the problems exposed during the Tests will remain as excess baggage on today's return flight to Australia.

"We saw the lack of consistency when we lose a wicket after a good start, what can happen" Australia's stand-in captain David Warner said at game's end having led the team to five consecutive wins across two white-ball formats after Steve Smith was sent home to rest.

Sri Lanka crumble under Aussie brilliance

"It's something we're trying to keep improving on.

"But it's obviously fantastic to win and win the series.

"The conditions we faced out there were pretty challenging from a one-day wicket point of view.

"I think this venue (Premadasa) was probably the stand-out that was the toughest, the wicket probably wasn't up to scratch in the games.

"In these conditions it was very, very tough for us as a batting team but I think the way the bowlers conducted themselves in reducing totals after losing the toss consistently was a fantastic effort.

"And to bounce back from the Tests was a phenomenal achievement."

Quick Single: Maxwell mauling seals series sweep

While those few players and Bupa Support Team staff who endured the full nine weeks in Sri Lanka will welcome a week at home before the next assignment in South Africa, it's doubtful any will welcome the familiarity when their flight touches down on Sunday morning more than Khawaja and Henriques.

Both endured a wretched time against the turning ball, and the opportunity to rediscover some touch and some confidence on pacey, true Australian pitches cannot come soon enough on the evidence tendered in their final outing.

Warner inspires five-star fielding effort

Henriques was promoted to No.3 in the batting order last night to maintain a left and right-handed combination with Warner, only to york himself and be stumped for the third time across as many formats on this tour.

Which for him hosted five innings that yielded 19 runs.

Khawaja arrived at the height of the tailspin last night and gave the impression he could lose his wicket any ball, which he could have from the first two he faced when he was dropped by the bowler and then missed by the keeper.

Quick Single: Khawaja keeps level over highs and lows

And his return of 134 runs from nine innings across all three formats in Sri Lanka cost him his Test berth for the third game of that series, and his place in the ODI squad for the upcoming visit to South Africa.

But as every Australia batter bar Maxwell has found at some point during this steep learning curve in Sri Lanka, beginning an innings when the ball is scuffed and soft and turning more erratically than a Colombo cab represents the sternest examination of both technique and temperament.

And one that Maxwell himself will need to address at some stage when the man who he replaced as opener because of injury – his former Melbourne housemate Finch – returns to the ODI and T20 line-ups after his fractured right index finger fully heals.

Which is expected to be the upcoming six-match Qantas ODI Tour of South Africa (which includes a one-off fixture against Ireland), from which Maxwell will be absent after a recent form slump also saw him jettisoned from the 50-over set-up.

Magic Maxi blasts away doubters with epic ton

"He (Maxwell) is a very good player of spin inside the first six overs and he can chance his arm," Warner said of his stand-in T20 opening partner at the conclusion of his own interim stint as Australia captain

"We've seen him reverse sweep and sweep and that's his strength, and what he did today and the other day (when he made 145no at Pallekele) was no fluke.

"It's exactly what he can do if he's given the opportunity.

 "But as we know, with the line-up and the dynamic of our team, we've got a structure there and once Finchy comes in he (Maxwell) will have to push down the order again and assess what his game plan is there.

 "It's no different to what he's done in the first six (overs in the past two T20s) and we all know as a batsman if you get that momentum and you get that boundary away, you feel 'in'.

"We've seen him do at the top (of the innings), we've seen him do it down in the middle so there's no excuse."

And 'no excuse' was another refrain that was reprised throughout the Test series, and will remain a familiar chorus before Australia returns to Asia to tackle India in four Tests next February and March.

Meg Lanning Steve Smith