Australia landed in Sri Lanka with an intent to change their fortunes in the sub-continent. The islanders appeared to be the perfect opponents, having returned from a poor outing in England. The demons of the sub-continent, though, came back to haunt the World No 1 side as they slumped to another defeat. Their 11th in 14 Tests played in Asia.
Chasing 268, Australia slumped to a 106-run defeat in Pallekele, thanks to the heroics of spinner Rangana Herath. Australia have now gone seven Tests in Asia without a win. Prior to their tour to Sri Lanka, they had lost 4-0 to India and 2-0 to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
The slump began in 2006, and the Aussies have managed to win just one Test since in Asia (against Sri Lanka).
Coincidentally, 2006 is the year when Australia’s talismanic spinner Shane Warne had announced his retirement from Test cricket.
Arguably the best spinner in history, Warne shouldered the responsibility of chief wicket-taker in most games, specially on the turning tracks of the sub-continent. It is no surprise that his departure (January 2007), also coincided with the slump in fortunes of the side in Asia.
Post Warne, Australia has shuffled over a dozen spinners. From the likes of Stuart Macgill, Michael Beer, Xavier Doherty, Jason Krejza, Bryce McGain, Nathan Hauritz to Brad Hogg… They all came and went, but failed to fill the huge void left by the great Warne.
Australia’s spinners have averaged 52.63 in their last 15 Tests in Asia, the worst among all teams since the start of 2008.
In recent years, right-arm spinner Nathan Lyon has been the only tweaker to have shown consistency and has cemented his position in the Australia XI. His recent form even saw him reach 200 wickets, becoming the fifth Australian spinner to reach the milestone.
But while he is described as the best finger-spinner Australia has ever produced, Lyon has hardly set the stage on fire in Asia. His average in Tests in Asia is close to 50.
In the first Test against Sri Lanka, Lyon hardly came to the fore. A fiery opening act by Australia’s pacers gave the side a fabulous start on Day 1, and the onus was on Lyon, along with fellow tweaker Steve O’Keefe, to lead the way as the wicket deteriorated.
Lyon, though, returned with just two wickets. Australia lost the advantage of their lead and faced a tricky target to chase in their second innings, and failed.
The trend is not a new one. The lack of reliable spinners have dogged the side since Warne’s exit.
And the recent performances by Lyon & Co. indicate that the trend is here to stay.