Postman Pat has delivered again.
Australia’s first seam-bowling captain in half a century can do no wrong, as he oversaw the nation’s first Test victory in Sri Lanka in more than a decade.
In Pakistan, the right-arm quick led Australia’s attack. In Galle, he masterminded Australia’s 10-wicket win over Sri Lanka.
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His bowling changes were inspired while Australia’s top seven, led by Usman Khawaja, delivered the tourists a first-innings lead of more than 100.
On a spinning deck, which turned square from the sixth over on day one, it was crucial.
Cameron Green’s rise continued, as he hit 77 and shared in a matchwinning stand alongside Alex Carey, who continues to entrench himself in the wicketkeeping role after an up-and-down Ashes campaign.
Here are five talking points from the rapid-fire first Test, which was ended by some David Warner boom-boom magic.
Pat Cummins. Travis Head. Scott Boland. Usman Khawaja. Marcus Harris. Mitch Swepson.
Over the past eight months Australia’s selectors have had to make six decisive decisions in Test cricket.
With every call George Bailey’s selection panel have made the right move.
When the trigger needed to be pulled on Marcus Harris they did so. To have moved him on before the Ashes would have been left the door firmly ajar; the jury would still be out and doubt may well have crept back in.
Before that Bailey and Justin Langer were right in appointing Cummins as Tim Paine’s replacement.
With every passing Test he is showing world cricket the way forward (more on this later).
Head was given the nod ahead of Khawaja and has proved a matchwinner.
Boland’s selection for the MCG Test was inspired.
Khawaja’s eventual inclusion and swift move up the order was appropriate and has paid off.
Swepson, too, needed to be backed ahead of the first Test in Sri Lanka and he was.
Reports surfaced in the lead-up to the Test that the leg-spinner faced the threat of Jon Holland, who was flown to Sri Lanka after Ashton Agar’s injury.
Whether or not a lack of match practice scared Australia’s selectors off will unlikely be told, but Swepson should never have been on the chopping block.
Shane Warne made his name in Sri Lanka and later returned in 2004 and, alongside Stuart MacGill, led Australia to glory.
Swepson, who bowled without luck in Pakistan despite unflattering figures, repaid the faith of Australia’s selectors by taking five wickets for the match and, crucially, three of those came in the first-innings.
Wickets win you Test matches and Swepson gives the ball a rip and has proved he can clean up sides in Sheffield Shield cricket.
Swepson’s two quick wickets on day one helped give Australia the momentum.
It’s the sort of spell and match that will give him the world of confidence and ahead of next year’s tour of India it comes at the perfect time. He is establishing himself as Australia’s No.2 spinner.
He compliments Lyon, too, with his leg-spin going the other way. And while he tends to bowl quickly through the air and flatter than most leg-spinners before him, his trajectory perhaps gives Lyon the confidence of getting more loop and shape on the ball because it’s a subtle change.
CUMMINS’ CAPTAINCY STOCKS ARE SKY HIGH
Another Test, another win for Pat Cummins who has developed a remarkable run in the early stages of his Australian captaincy.
Since Cummins rose to power after Tim Paine’s fall from grace on the eve of the Ashes, Australia hasn’t lost a Test.
Victory in Galle on Friday extended Cummins’ undefeated run to eight Tests, following on from three wins and a draw at the Ashes (he missed the Adelaide Test), and two draws and a win in Pakistan.
It’s still early days, but going undefeated across three different series, home and away, is no small feat.
The last time Australia went this long without losing a Test was between August 2015 and February 2016 when it claimed seven wins and two draws in two series against New Zealand, and one against the West Indies.
Of course, it’s not solely down to Cummins’ captaincy, but Australia is certainly humming under his rule.
Cummins has proven in a short space of time that he’s not afraid to make big decisions in the interest of moving the game forward.
In Lahore in March, a bold and aggressive declaration on day four of the third Test proved a masterstroke as the hosts got sucked in, and were eventually defeated in the final session of the tour.
Fittingly, Cummins took the winning wicket.
In Galle, he made all the right moves as Australia won by 10 wickets inside 154 completed overs of play.
Australia did so despite losing the toss.
Cummins’ spinners delivered for him in spades while Sri Lanka’s batting left plenty to be desired, even on a tricky pitch.
Even so, the fast-bowling captain deserves credit for his exceptional match awareness.
Late on day two he turned his bat into a sledgehammer to take Australia’s lead past the symbolic mark of 100, forcing Sri Lanka to sleep on a triple-figure deficit.
On day three, there wasn’t much of an interest in eking out a few extra runs as there was in getting back in the field with fresh legs.
Despite the temptation to open the bowling, as he did in the first innings, Cummins saw Mitchell Starc hit for 17 runs in the first over and promptly gave the second over to Lyon.
Lyon’s third over delivered Australia its first wicket and triggered Sri Lanka’s shocking 10-wicket slide for just 76 runs.
With Sri Lanka in strife, Cummins didn’t relent with the spin onslaught when he could have fancied a crack himself, or with Starc, who has a reputation of cleaning up tails.
When Mitchell Swepson needed a spell, Cummins gave the ball to Travis Head who hadn’t bowled once since the first Test in Pakistan.
Head promptly delivered 4-10 in less than three overs.
When all was said and done, Cummins hadn’t even sent down a single delivery in the second innings.
It was the first time Cummins didn’t bowl an over in a Test match he was picked in.
Now another Test series win, in the toughest continent of them all, is there for the taking for Cummins whose captaincy stocks are sky high.
HEAD’S UNDERRATED SKILL FINALLY SHINES THROUGH
Okay, Travis Head is not Muttiah Muralitharan, even if he took the form of the 800 Test-wicket legend for 17 balls on Friday.
True that the Galle wicket would make many part-timers look better than usual, but this was a freakish spell.
Players don’t simply take 4-10 — regardless of conditions and opponent — inside three overs of Test cricket.
They just don’t.
That is except for Head, whose second ball of the innings span in Warne-like proportions through the gate of Dinesh Chandimal. This, from a finger spinner.
Then the rest was all a bit of a blur.
In only 13 of his 53 Test innings in the field had Head been tossed the ball by an Australian captain.
He had bowled just 228 deliveries — and not one of them was a wicket.
Now he has four, and he’s bowled just 245.
Head isn’t likely to become a bowling regular for Australia off the back of one innings, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that perhaps he’s been under-utilised to date.
During his debut series in 2018, Stuart MacGill sung Head’s praises as a bowler, questioning why he wasn’t being used more.
“He’s a really good bowler too, so I was bit surprised he didn’t get a run,” he said at the time.
“I think with Travis he’s got a bit going on between his ears. That’s a big thing when you’re bowling. You need to be able to put that bowling hat on and he bowls a little bit more like a bowler than a lot of guys.”
He added: “He doesn’t necessary just fire it in like a lot of fingers spin do. He tries to get a bit of work on it.”
Somewhere, you’d have to imagine MacGill is thinking ‘I told you so’.
LYON JOINS TOP-10 LEGENDS AS SIX-YEAR HURT IS VANQUISHED
On Wednesday, Nathan Lyon was well on his way to vanquishing his demons of 2016, when he was outperformed by Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath in a 3-0 series defeat.
Now it looks like he’s going to absolutely obliterate those demons, while four more wickets on Friday elevated him to legendary bowling status — if he wasn’t there already.
Fresh from taking 5-90 in the first innings, Lyon took 4-31 in the second to move him to 436 Test wickets.
That tally takes him past India’s Kapil Dev (434) and into the top 10 greatest Test wicket-takers of all time.
By the end of the series, he could well be as high as eighth with Dale Steyn (439) and Ravichandran Ashwin (442) firmly in his sights.
Wicket No.436 came at the same venue as No.1, which Lyon took at Galle 11 years ago, announcing his arrival by dismissing cricket legend Kumar Sangakkara.
His return trip five years later didn’t produce the same fond memories. Lyon took 16 wickets at 31.93 in the same favourable conditions that Herath took 28 at 12.75.
A key lesson learnt from that tour, and delivered by Herath himself, was to simply put the ball in the right areas, and the batter will “stuff up”.
On Friday, it felt like Sri Lanka’s batters did little but stuff up, with a number of poorly executed shots — mainly sweep shots, which the Australians played well — to well-pitched deliveries.
Lyon is now reaping the rewards, and so, too, is Australia.
His all-time average in Asia is now 31.27, and just 24.86 since that 2016 tour of Sri Lanka.
It all bodes awfully well for a blockbuster tour of India in February and March next year.
WICKET NO EXCUSE FOR BATTING SHAMBLES
Travis Head taking four quick wickets brought back memories of Michael Clarke taking 6-9 against India in 2004.
The obvious line of thinking is the spinning pitch either backfired on Sri Lanka or it was a bad one and a bad look for cricket.
But hang on, didn’t the fifth Test in Hobart also last just three days?
Didn’t the first Test of last summer’s Ashes end quickly after England were rock and rolled on day one?
Khawaja, Cameron Green and Alex Carey, even Cummins late on day two, scored runs to prove that batting was possible.
More than anything, the ultra fast Test exposed Sri Lanka’s batting.
Long gone are the days of Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Sri Lanka, in just the same way as England last summer, lack genuine Test batters.
To say otherwise would be to paint a false picture.
Australia is a strong team.
They are well balanced and have an array of options at their disposal, including in the spin department.
More than that though, they are a happy squad and one playing with confidence.
Cricket is often played between the two ears and mentally Australia is right on top.
Their 10-wicket win will have ripped open scars in Sri Lanka’s squad.