It was hard to tell exactly who needed wickets more at the Sinhalese Sports Stadium in Colombo on Sunday.
Australia needed them to ensure Sri Lanka did not put themselves into a strong position with two days to play in the third and final Test…and Mitchell Johnson needed them to ensure that he put himself in a position where he will still have days to play.
Neither got what they wanted, but Michael Clarke’s side will be happy to have restricted Sri Lanka’s run rate to a crawl.
Sri Lanka needed to be aggressive to win this match, but, at 6-428, they are a little more than 100 in front with two days to play.
When positive scoring was called for, nobody apart from the SriLankan captain delivered.
Angelo Mathews might be approaching 100, but his snail’s pace when batting with the tail – less than two an over in the last hour – was not what his side needed.
Johnson, however, is struggling to do what a bowler must…take wickets. The worry for his future is that Peter Siddle, who was not picked to play in the first two Tests, has made a good fist of his chance in this match.
“Hopefully we can some wickets early in the morning and get out there with the bat,” Siddle said.
“It’s going to be tough for us to win, but we’re five overs from the new ball and if we can get a couple before the new ball and bat as hard and tough as we can, then we’ll see what the situation is coming into that last day.”
The SSC wicket has demoralised better bowlers than Johnson, but his inability to break through dates back for a considerable period on considerably different decks. The left-armer’s poor form in the Ashes helped further derail a campaign that was well off track anyway.
Johnson’s early promise is beginning to sour.
His beginnings at Test level suggested he would be one of the better fast men we have seen. But when his confidence goes, so, too, does his impact.
Johnson did remove opener Tharanga Paranavitana on the second day, thanks to a hot piece of catching from born-again fieldsman Ricky Ponting, but he struggled from there on. His woes are his side’s.Australia, in their decline, have struggled to take the 20 wickets necessary to win a Test.
The Australian Cricket Review noted in the preamble that the feat had only been achieved twice in the past nine Tests. Make it thrice in 11 until this point.
Ryan Harris and Trent Copeland work as a good double act at the top of the order.
Both tie batsmen down, while the former, who is injured, tends to be more effective at delivering the final blow. Harris is the side’s best bowler.
He faces a heavy workload ahead and perhaps can’t be expected to play the series againstSouth Africa,New ZealandandIndia.
When he returns for the first Test inSouth Africa, it will be interesting to see if Johnson or Siddle is his partner.
Buford Balony says: Johnson’s missus and mum must be fighting again.