© AFP
Australia will look to play for their No.1 Test ranking © AFP

Australia, after starting 2016 on a winning note, have been on the downhill in Tests in the second half. Australia having won against West Indies and New Zealand were looking invincible in the longer format of the game. Steven Smith would have been hopeful of his teams’ chances in a tough and grueling trip to Sri Lanka. With the return of fiery paceman Mitchell Starc, an in-form Nathan Lyon and Bradmansque Adam Voges looking in undefeated form with the bat, Australians should have had a merry time on the emerald island, which strangely was not the case. Sri Lanka after losing their three-Test series in England, would have had their own puddle of worries to dry. However, Sri Lanka helped by their spinners came back strongly and managed to outsmart the stiffed Australians to take an unassailable lead of 2-0 lead in the three-Test series. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Sri Lanka vs Australia, 3rd Test at Colombo

What has been Australia’s main issue during the whole series is the form of David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns. Warner and Burns were plundering runs back home in Australia and New Zealand, now seem have lost their sense of batting. Warner was in red-hot form in the recently concluded Indian Premier League (IPL) 2016 where he also led, eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad, to their maiden title but ever since has seen a massive slump in form in the most testing format. Warner managed just 0 & 1 in the first match, which was once a blue moon scenario for him, while in the second Test he fared well making 42 & 41, which was still nothing compared to his blusterous hundreds.

On the other hand, Burns who was the perfect foil to Warner has looked without purpose on this tour. Khawaja who had a dream comeback to his career last year, has been struggling with spin almost dancing to the tune of the ball. Smith’s penurious run-of-late has a lot to do with Australia’s fortune. Smith did provide with some resistance at Galle but he alone could not steer the ship. Smith’s free flowing bat and urgency in running is of prime, if Australia have any chance of a revival of sort in the Indian subcontinent. With Voges place in the starting XI in doubt, incoming Shaun Marsh needs to be on the mark from the word go. The likes of Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill needs to play to their strength and try to use the long handle to good effect, unless the situation demands the opposite.

Another cause of concern for the visitors is the ineffectiveness of their regular off-spinner Lyon. Lyon, who has whipped away more than 200 Test wickets, somehow has lost his trajectory on this tour. Being a curator himself, Lyon would have understood the nitty gritty of the track, but has looked anxious. With Stephen O’Keefe’s departing due to an injury, the spinning department looks thin. Australia’s only bright star on this tour, Starc has toiling hard  to keep his team and its pride in one piece. The lack of a quality partner has diminished his performances somewhat, with Josh Hazlewood going to a shell and Marsh going through the motions in bowling, Australia lacks the penetrative arsenal it once possessed.

Moving ahead in the series, the third Test at Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo, will want to witness an Australian fightback in hope to provide riveting opposition to the home side. With the top ranking at stake, Smith will hope his team to dish out an appropriate response to the Lankan Lions in a bid to attain redemption.

Australian squad for Sri Lanka tour : Steven Smith(c), David Warner, Jackson Bird, Joe Burns, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill, Stephen O’Keefe (ruled out), Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, Jon Holland

(Vishal Mehra is a reporter at CricketCountry, who enjoys his weekly dose of anime, and plays cricket once a white moon. His twitter handle is @capturethecatch )