Hobart: 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 on Friday. 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.
Sangakkara, 35, the international cricketer of the year, would not be drawn on whether this will 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 in Hobart. 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 Ricky Ponting.
Their 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 team-mates.
"Definitely. For me I think this is my last tour (in 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."
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 make runs 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 last 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.
"This is the ground where things probably didn't pan out perfectly on a personal note," Hughes said this week. "Twelve months down the track, I feel like I'm in a better place now."
All-rounder Shane Watson has said he will be given the first opportunity to fill Ponting's vacancy in the batting order at number four against Sri Lanka.
"(Coach) Mickey Arthur talked to me at the end of the last (Perth) Test to say the way it was looking, they were going to move me down to four," Watson told reporters.
The series continues in the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground followed by Sydney, starting on January 3.
Australia: Ed Cowan, David Warner, Phil Hughes, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (captain), Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade (wk), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Shaminda Eranga, Chanaka Welegedara