Even in a tournament with nine group-stage matches which allows room for a slip up or two, you don’t want to be 0-3 early in the competition but that’s the situation which will confront one of these teams after they face off in Lucknow in what already shapes as a contest to retain realistic semi-final hopes.
It’s been a tough start for Australia and Sri Lanka, but two points in this fixture will revive belief that they can still challenge for the top four. The struggles of Australia, with their World Cup pedigree, are creating headlines. They were handed a demanding start to the tournament by facing hosts India and a confident South Africa, but they have been significantly off the pace in all three disciplines.
Sri Lanka have managed to put runs on the board – more than 300 in both matches against South Africa and Pakistan – but their problem has been they have conceded them at an even higher rate: they have been plundered for 773 from 98.2 overs in two games, meaning even Kusal Mendis ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/kusal-mendis-629074)‘ sparkling century in Hyderabad wasn’t enough.
To add to their problems they have lost captain Dasun Shanaka ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/dasun-shanaka-437316) to a tournament-ending injury which means Mendis will now take on the captaincy. However, even though the bowlers have been put to the sword, the spinners will fancy their chances of having an impact against the Australians.
In what was quite an un-Australian move, they made two changes after just one match. The omission of Cameron Green was largely expected against South Africa, but the axing of Alex Carey ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/alex-carey-326434) was a major talking point even if his form had been patchy. They are still competing with a 14-player squad with Travis Head yet to rejoin the group and it’s only Sean Abbott who has yet to feature.
The batting is becoming a concern with no one yet to reach a half century – Australia currently have the lowest batting average of any team in the tournament at 18.80 and have failed to reach 200 in the first two outings.
In ODIs, the most recent meetings between these teams came in mid-2022 in a five-match series when Sri Lanka prevailed 3-2.
(last five matches, most recent first) Australia LLWLL Sri Lanka LLLWL
In the spotlight: Adam Zampa and Kusal Mendis
Australia gambled in their final squad by not replacing Ashton Agar with a like-for-like and while Glenn Maxwell has held up his end of the bargain their problems have been compounded by a rare loss of form for Adam Zampa ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/adam-zampa-379504). Since taking 4 for 48 in Bloemfontein he has claimed 7 for 430 with an economy of 7.41 in six games. He battled niggling injuries leading into the tournament, while former captain Aaron Finch said he also has a hip problem, and is currently struggling to either take wickets to keep the economy rate down.
“Don’t think he’s bowled as much in the lead up as he would have in the past,” Finch told ESPNcricinfo. “He’s had neck and shoulder issues, I know he’s got a bit of a hip niggle at the moment, whether that’s just affecting him technically slightly, legspin bowling is not my expertise, but he didn’t bowl his absolute best against India. But you are also bowling against the best players in the world. I think back to the first over he bowled and he got cut for two boundaries, one of them was a good ball, might have hit the top of off stump to KL [Rahu] and it slides past backward point for four, then you are on the back foot because your best ball has been hit for four. You start overthinking it at times and you might stray away from your number one plan.”
On the flip side, Kusal Mendis ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/kusal-mendis-629074) is in spectacular form. If you include his final warm-up innings against Afghanistan, he has made 356 runs in his last three knocks and his 122 off 77 balls against Pakistan was a career-best in ODIs. But the question will be whether he can sustain such a free-flowing nature with the additional burden of captaincy, adding to an extensive workload with him also being the wicketkeeper. He has a good one-day record against Australia, averaging 50.33 from 11 innings.
Team news: Australia likely unchanged; Sri Lanka need reinforcements
Australia are likely to be unchanged, which means Josh Inglis ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/josh-inglis-662235) will retain the keeping gloves, but there is pressure on the big three quicks to lift their game and make early inroads. There have previously been issues with Marcus Stoinis playing back-to-back matches but he only bowled two overs against South Africa so that shouldn’t be a factor.
Australia (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Mitchell Marsh, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Marnus Labuschagne, 5 Josh Inglis (wk), 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Marcus Stoinis, 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Shanaka has been ruled out of the tournament, replaced by Chamika Karunaratne ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/chamika-karunaratne-623695) who is a bustling seam bowler and hard-hitting lower-order bat and could come straight into the mix. They may also be without slingy fast bowler Matheesha Pathirana who has a right shoulder problem and is “under observation” according to the team manager.
The surface got trickier as the match wore on when Australia faced South Africa and it certainly nipped around for the quicks in the second half. That may have a bearing on what the captain who wins the toss decides to do. However, Pat Cummins and Shanaka, before his injury, had won both their tosses, done different things each time, and watched their team get beaten on each occasion. So they may just want to leave it to the other to decide. It’s set to be another hot day.
Stats and trivia
Australia have caught barely half their chances in the first two matches: eight from 14. It gives them the lowest catch percentage of all the teams.
“A lot of Australian teams, when they’re backed into a corner, play their best cricket. We find ourselves in a corner early on in this tournament, but we’ve got to come out and put in a really good performance against Sri Lanka.” Mitchell Marsh
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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