Sri Lanka's veteran cricketers eye first test victory in Australia
Islanders' old guard of run-makers are aiming to achieve a breakthrough test success in what will probably be their final series Down Under
Sri Lanka are putting their faith in the remnants of their "golden generation" as they target their first ever test win in Australia in the three-match series starting tomorrow.
Thirty-somethings Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera, who form the core of Sri Lanka's batting, are shaping as Sri Lanka's best chance of breaking their 10-test, 25-year winless record Down Under.
Sangakkara, 35, the international cricketer of the year, would not be drawn on whether this would be his last trip to Australia, but he said an elusive test win was a prime motivator for the team elders. "When you do get older, you do look for achievements where you haven't really tasted victory so, here and in India, [there are] test matches still to win," Sangakkara said.
"That's a great motivator for guys like Dilshan, Mahela, myself and Samaraweera. We're the older brigade. But whether we get it or not, the key is to really contribute to the side."
Since being hammered in their first test in Australia in early 1988, Sri Lanka have lost another seven matches and drawn two, most recently in Cairns in 2004. They have also never won a test in India.
Sri Lanka's hopes appear to rest on their batsmen providing enough runs to upset Michael Clarke's Australia, the world number three test side, who are embarking on their first series since the retirement of former captain Ricky Ponting.
Sri Lanka's bowling has been hit by the test retirements of Lasith Malinga, Chaminda Vaas and the 800-wicket Muttiah Muralitharan. Unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis, with 62 wickets from 16 tests, was passed over for the tour.
Dilshan, 36, admits he is unlikely to have another chance to win a test in Australia and acknowledges time is running out for him and his teammates.
"Definitely. For me I think this is my last tour [of Australia] in test cricket. This is a real challenge for everyone," he said.
"We've never won a test match here. If we can win a test match it's great for the team and the country.
"It's never easy when you're playing Australia because the conditions are different.
"But we're looking forward to a great run with them in this series," he said.
Much of Sri Lanka's hopes are pinned on the batting of veteran trio Jayawardene, Sangakkara and opener Dilshan, who urged the top order to put runs on the board or risk being whitewashed in the series.
"Definitely in the top order someone has to put their hands up and put some big runs on the board, to help the middle order and the tailenders," the opener said.
"That's our target. The top order should make some runs this series. It's really important that Mahela and Sanga come into form. They're two experienced guys in the side."
However, Sri Lanka's lead-in form does not augur well with just four victories in their past 20 tests. Their last away series win was in Bangladesh in 2008, and their current test ranking is a lowly sixth.
Australia are coming off a 309-run drubbing by world number one South Africa this month, and Hobart will be the first chance for their new-look batting line-up after the record-breaking Ponting retired with 13,378 test runs.
Phil Hughes returns to the Australian squad at the ground where he was dropped after their shock loss to New Zealand a year ago, with a likely role at number three instead of opening the innings.
The series continues in the Boxing Day test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground followed by Sydney, starting on January 3.