Confident Sri Lanka can test Australia's T20 approach
Australia's men begin their international summer with eyes firmly on a year from now: the T20 World Cup on home soil. It is the global prize that has eluded them, in a format they have struggled to grasp. With the next 50-over World Cup four years away and the Test side rebuilding steadily after a difficult year, there is a sense they are now going to give T20 cricket a proper focus.
Whether it works remains to be seen, but a home World Cup means there won't be many unknowns in terms of conditions and there were some promising signs with their last two series being a draw (at home) and a win (away) against India. Where the unknowns remain a year out is in what Australia's best T20I side looks like. The start of the series against Sri Lanka - which begins a run of six matches in quick succession - is a chance to start answering a few questions.
The series marks the home international returns of David Warner and Steven Smith - two players who need to re-establish their roles in the T20I side - and a chance for the frontline pacemen, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, to settle into the team having often missed this format due to rest and rotation.
They are facing a Sri Lanka side buoyed by their recent, somewhat unexpected, success in Pakistan with what was billed a shadow team due to a long list of players not touring but ended up with a 3-0 scoreline which has suddenly boosted their options with an eye on next year's World Cup.
Sri Lanka's struggles in recent years means they have to go through the pre-qualifying phase of the tournament but there is time for them to build a team that should leave them confident of progressing to the main draw. The batting, in Australia in particular, remains a concern and they were rusty against the Prime Minister's XI, but the bowling attack has enough variation to pose issues for Australia.
(last five completed matches)
Sri Lanka WWWWL
In the spotlight
A poor World Cup has left his one-day spot under question again and Test cricket appears to be gone, but Glenn Maxwell remains a lock in the T20I side. His last two innings, against India in February, were 56 and a brilliant unbeaten 113 to take Australia to their 2-0 series victory. His bowling will allow Australia to play one frontline spinner if they want while he remains one of the outstanding fielders in the game.
After being a beneficiary of the need for some new batsmen for the tour of Pakistan, Oshada Fernando hit 78 off 48 deliveries on his debut when he came in at 30 for 3 so has set himself a high benchmark. He looked the best of the Sri Lankan batsmen in the warm-up against the PM's XI - albeit against a less demanding attack than he'll face in the T20Is - with 38 off 25 balls and his form may be enough to keep an experienced player like Kusal Perera on the sidelines.
Andrew Tye was ruled out of the series due to a suspected elbow ligament injury, sustained when throwing during the team's main training session on Friday afternoon. The injury more or less guarantees a spot for Kane Richardson alongside Starc and Cummins, while Ashton Turner is expected to play in the middle order even though he is still somewhat restricted in his throwing and is still unable to bowl as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Captain Aaron Finch looks fit to play following a side strain.
Australia (possible): 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Ashton Turner, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Kane Richardson
Lasith Malinga will come in to lead the side after missing the warm-up match against the PM's XI in Canberra on Thursday night. Given the limited preparation time in Australia, they may give the top order that played the warm-up the first chance. Isuru Udana, the left-arm seamer and hard-hitting batsman, is likely bolster the lower order.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Kusal Mendis, 3 Bhanuka Rajapakse, 4 Oshada Fernando, 5 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Lasith Malinga (capt), 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Pitch and conditions
Adelaide Oval's drop-in surface looked a pleasant straw colour for batting after the ground staff had both a hot spell, and also periods of cooler weather and rain to contend with in the lead up to their first fixture of the Australian season. The weather forecast is for temperate conditions with a top of around 19C.
Stats and Trivia
- Malinga took 5 for 6 - including four wickets in four balls - in his last T20I against New Zealand
- Sri Lanka have an impressive T20I record in Australia with five wins from six matches. In 2017 they secured a 2-1 series win against a hotchpotch Australia team due to a Test series taking place in India, although five of that Australia squad are in this current set-up (six if you include the injured Tye).
- Starc has played just one T20I in the last three years - that was against India last November when he was a late addition to the squad.
"I'm all good, ready to go. I felt really good batting in particular. I was a bit worried about throwing yesterday, it wasn't the most comfortable thing over the last few days in Perth, but getting here and batting yesterday and today, throwing a fair bit gave me a lot of confidence. The last three days it's been really good, I've got full movement, full training today and pretty heavy batting session yesterday, not a lot of throwing, but I feel confident to go."
"We're expecting good cricket, because these days they play Big Bash also, so they're a tough team. They're in touch, they know the conditions, but still we want to do our best here. I've got a good young side and we had a winning note in the last tournament and we have good confidence. But we don't have much experience in these conditions, so mental preparation is very important I think."