Australia fear they might have let India off the hook on the first day of the deciding Test in Brisbane, according to centurion Marnus Labuschagne.

Number three Labuschagne reached three figures for the first time in the series with a typically diligent 108.

However, he top-edged a pull off debutant seamer Thangarasu Natarajan (2-63) to be pouched by wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, shortly after Matthew Wade departed to the same bowler for 45.

Like Wade, Steve Smith was guilty of not capitalising on a start when he became Washington Sundar's maiden Test wicket on 36, although Cameron Green (28 not out) and under-fire captain Tim Paine (38no) got the hosts to 274-5 at stumps with the four-match series all square at 1-1.

"Look, all our batters are going to make their own assessment of the way they got out. They're all international players," Labuschagne said.

"You know everyone gets judged harshly. You're your own harshest critic and everyone will look at their dismissals and say, 'What could I have done better?'

"I'm definitely disappointed about not going on and getting a really big score that would have put us in a better position as a team.

"We'll still take the position we're in, it was really nice to see Greeny and Tim finish it off there when we did lose two wickets in quick succession."

Injuries have laid waste to India's plans over the course of the series and Natarajan and Sundar featured for the first time in the longest format as key men Ravichandran Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah were ruled out.

It meant learning on the fly against unfamiliar opposition, although it was a challenge Labuschagne relished.

"Definitely I had to formulate some plans on the run and keep trying to understand the situation, what they were doing. That's the part of the game that is really enjoyable." he said when considering an India attack that was further compromised by the loss of Navdeep Saini to a groin injury after only 7.5 overs.

"You've got to read the situation out there. You can look at stuff on a screen and see how guys bowl but only you know out there, with a feel of how you can do things and how you can make things easier. "

Not for the first time, Smith was the centre of controversy for alleged gamesmanship on the final day of the drawn third Test, but Labuschagne failed to spot any ill-effects as the pair shared a stand of 70 for the third wicket.

"I don't think when he walks out onto the field that stuff really concerns him. He's focusing on the ball and scoring runs," he added.

"If anything it gives him extra motivation to put big runs on the board. I don't think that stuff comes into play when he's out there at all."

Marnus Labuschagne notched his fifth Test century on an even opening day of the fourth Test between Australia and India in Brisbane.

Labuschagne (108) helped Australia to 274-5 at stumps on day one at the Gabba, where they are unbeaten in their past 31 Tests, on Friday.

The right-hander was dropped twice and punished India, who continued to fight despite their injury woes.

But Matthew Wade (45) and Tim Paine (38 not out) were Australia's next two top scorers, several poor dismissals costing the hosts after they elected to bat first on a warm day, with the captain and Cameron Green (28 not out) unbeaten at stumps.

Thangarasu Natarajan (2-63) and Washington Sundar (1-63) made their Test debuts for India, who were without Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah and Hanuma Vihari from the drawn third Test.

Adding to India's worries, Navdeep Saini (0-21) was sent for scans on a suspected groin injury.

After winning the toss, Australia quickly found themselves 17-2 in a poor start in their bid to win a series that is locked at 1-1.

Rohit Sharma took a great low catch diving to his right from first slip to remove David Warner (1) off Mohammed Siraj (1-51), while Marcus Harris (5) handed Shardul Thakur (1-67) his first Test wicket with a flick straight to Sundar at square leg.

Steve Smith (36) and Labuschagne steadied the innings with a 70-run partnership before the former departed after lunch, caught by Rohit at short midwicket off Sundar.

Labuschagne was given two lives – on 37 and 48 – and he made India pay alongside Wade as Australia looked set to take control of the Test.

Since Labuschagne made his Test debut in October 2018, only New Zealand star Kane Williamson (six) has made more centuries than his five.

But Wade and Labuschagne skied deliveries from Natarajan with pull shots to give India a way back into the Test as Australia were left at 213-5.

Paine and Green were relatively comfortable before the latter was dropped on 19, Thakur spilling a tough return chance, and they got to stumps ahead of an important day two.

Following PCR tests administered on Wednesday, January 13, Cricket West Indies (CWI) can confirm that Hayden Walsh Jr has tested positive for COVID-19 and will now undergo a period of self-isolation.

The Leeward Islands and West Indies leg-spinner, who is asymptomatic, first returned a negative test result on arrival into Bangladesh on the weekend, and then had a positive return on his test in Dhaka yesterday. This result was verified by a second positive test today.

The West Indies touring squad has been in individual isolation since arriving in Bangladesh and so there has been no contact between squad members since arrival. In accordance with the established medical protocols, Walsh remained isolated from the West Indies squad and is now under the care and supervision of the Team Physician, Dr Praimanand  Singh.

Walsh will remain in isolation until he returns two negative PCR test results and therefore is unavailable to play in the upcoming three-match ODI series against Bangladesh.

All other members of the West Indies touring squad returned second negative COVID-19 tests, after undergoing four tests within the last 11 days.

The three-match ODI Series starts on Wednesday, January 20.

  Full Tour Schedule:

  • January 18: One-day warm-up match, BKSP, Savar
  • January 20 1st ODI, SBNCS, Dhaka
  • January 22: 2nd ODI, SBNCS, Dhaka
  • January 25: 3rd ODI, ZACS, Chattogram
  • January 28-31: Four-day warm-up, M.A. Aziz Stadium, Chattogram
  • February 3-7: 1st Test Match, ZACS, Chattogram
  • February 11-15: 2nd Test Match, SBNCS, Dhaka

West Indies captain for the upcoming series against Bangladesh, Jason Mohammed, insists there is little pressure on fringe players selected for the tour, having been unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight.

The Caribbean team will take on Bangladesh with somewhat of an unfamiliar line-up, having seen several players pull out of the tour due to concerns regarding the coronavirus.  Among the replacements will be four Test players who are still looking for their first cap and 7 One Day International (ODI) players who could be playing for the first time.

An unexpected and surprise selection for the West Indies squad could, however, gift some players with a platform to make their case for regular inclusion in the first team squad.  Mohammed, however, does not expect that fact to put added pressure on himself or the other batsmen to perform well during the series.

“I wouldn’t say it more pressure there are young guys who are obviously looking to play international cricket.  I don’t think it’s more pressure, I think it’s an ideal opportunity for all of us,” Mohammed told members of the media on Thursday.

“We can put our hands up and say we are ready for international cricket.  I do not think it is more pressure for us, I would say we are just looking forward to the opportunity.”

 

Cricket West Indies (CWI) today named Floyd Reifer as the new Head Coach of the West Indies “Rising Stars” Under-19 team. Reifer is an Australian Cricket Board (ACB) certified Level Three Coach, whose leadership experience includes being a former West Indies captain.

The former interim West Indies Head Coach and current Head Coach of the West Indies Emerging Player & High-Performance Programmes will lead the development of the squad as they prepare for the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup to be played in the Caribbean in early 2022.

Reifer was chosen because of his impressive track record in building and coaching successful development teams, including the UWI Blackbirds, the Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC), the West Indies Emerging Players and the West Indies ‘A’ Team.

According to CWI, as a former interim head coach for the senior team, and as batting coach for the recent tour of England, Reifer’s experience and knowledge are perfectly suited to help young West Indians understand what is needed for them to achieve global standards.

He is also a former batting coach for the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots and is the current Head Coach of the Jamaica Tallawahs in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). 

“It is great to be coaching the young players of the West Indies and trying to guide them as we prepare for the World Cup at home,” Reifer said reacting to his appointment.

“I am excited to have already begun the work and I’m sure the young men are also very enthusiastic. In speaking to many of the possible team members, they are all eager to start the programme. They have not been playing much cricket due to the COVID-19 situation, so it is great that CWI has started to put the preparation in place for our team a year out from hosting the World Cup.

“We have solid plans. The programme we have in place is science and technology-based and it looks at all aspects of their game, including cricket fundamentals and personal development. It is very intense and based on creating an 'elite athlete' with a professional mindset. We have held meetings with coaches and the Territorial Boards and they are all happy with the direction we are going. Within that programme, we hope to have high-performance training camps during the year, the annual Under-19 Rising Stars tournament in the summer, followed by hosting the South Africa U19s for five One-Day matches in the Caribbean.”

Jimmy Adams, CWI’s Director of Cricket, said he was happy that CWI had been able to appoint Reifer to lead the Under-19 programme and take the young players through to the World Cup early next year. “The opportunity fits perfectly given his remit as our High-Performance Head Coach, a role in which he has successfully overseen our High-Performance squads in the recent past, including Emerging Players and ‘A’ teams,” Adams said.

“I would also like to thank Graeme West who coached the U19 team in the last three campaigns, including winning the Tournament in 2016. Graeme will continue to be involved in his current role as High-Performance Manager. He will provide valuable support for Floyd in the planning and execution of the programme all the way through to the World Cup next year.”

.  

 

 

West Indies captain for the Bangladesh tour, Jason Mohammed, has taken to heart words of encouragement from former WI captain Clive Lloyd, in light of what he believes have been some negative perspectives.

In all honesty, few are likely to favour the team’s chances against a full-strength Bangladesh when the tour bowls off later this month.  The West Indies were left short-handed in the experience department after 12 of their first-string players opted out of the tour after listing health and safety concerns.

As a result of the regulars opting out, the selectors were forced to hastily assembly a squad that consisted of majority fringe players and a few others with limited experience.  Bangladesh outplayed the full-strength team during a 2018 tour, and have generally had the better of the results in recent encounters.

Still, Mohammed refuses to completely write off the team’s chances before a ball is bowled and was grateful to receive encouragement from the well-respected former West Indies captain, Lloyd, who reportedly penned letters to several players.

“It meant a lot coming from one of our greats.  Those are the things you want to hear because there has been a lot of negative talk going around,” Mohammed told members of the media on Thursday, via an online press conference from Bangladesh.

“When you hear from someone like Clive Lloyd it puts great belief within you. With the World Cup coming up it’s an opportunity for all of us to put our hands up and try and get into the original team, when the full squad is back and have a chance of going to the World Cup.  I think it inspired the guys a lot and hopefully, we can back his words up.”  

 

 

 

During the 2020 tournament the Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL),  Jamaica Tallawahs partnered with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) to showcase Jamaica as a fascinating and vibrant destination for all visitors, generating a sponsorship value of US$45.7million.

The 2020 tournament was played behind closed doors in Trinidad as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Tallawahs and Hero CPL worked hard to highlight Jamaica as a leading tourist destination. With record viewership of 523million, a 67 per cent increase on 2019, there was a huge audience watching CPL and hearing about what Jamaica has to offer.

The JTB’s9876543ASP[]\sponsorship of the Jamaica Tallawahs saw tourism footage featuring many of the “must see” locations in Jamaica shown throughout the tournament, with there being a special focus during the Tallawah’s “home” matches. In total Jamaica received a record 395 hours of brand exposure across the tournament.

 “We are delighted to see these numbers and it always pleases us when we are able to show Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean in the best possible light,” said Hero CPL COO, Pete Russell.

“The Hero CPL taking place in 2020 showed the world that the Caribbean was open for business and even in the most trying of circumstances it can deliver an amazing experience for visitors. Jamaica is a fantastic place to visit and we can’t wait to be back there as soon as possible.”

Jamaica’s Director of Tourism Donovan White highlighted the benefits of the partnership.

“Our partnership with Hero Caribbean Premier League gave us the opportunity to present the Jamaican brand to a large global cricket audience,” White said.

“An audience that included cricket aficionados and others from India, South Africa, England and Australia. Our association with Jamaica Tallawahs was well positioned and we are happy with the success of the television production.”

 

Dom Bess claimed a five-wicket haul as England seized immediate control of the first Test against Sri Lanka, skittling their hosts for 135 before reaching 127-2 in reply.

Captain Joe Root and the recalled Jonny Bairstow combined to put on an unbroken third-wicket partnership worth 110 in the final session, the duo finishing unbeaten on 66 and 47 respectively as the tourists dominated the opening day of the series.

As for Sri Lanka, their problems started prior to the game getting underway as skipper Dimuth Karunaratne was ruled out due to a fractured thumb. 

Stuart Broad (3-20) claimed two early wickets as Sri Lanka were reduced to 25-3; they never recovered and were bowled out for the lowest first-innings score in a Test staged at Galle International Stadium.

Angelo Mathews - back in the Sri Lanka XI - combined with stand-in skipper Dinesh Chandimal to put on 56 for the fourth wicket, but that was the only partnership of real note in an innings that spanned a mere 46.1 overs. 

Chandimal top-scored with 28 before he was superbly caught in the covers by Sam Curran off Jack Leach (1-55), leaving the score at 81-5 early in the afternoon session. 

Niroshan Dickwella (12) chopped a long hop from Bess to backward point, while the off-spinner also benefited from a lucky deflection off short leg Bairstow - who took the full brunt of a sweep shot - that allowed wicketkeeper Jos Buttler to catch Dasun Shanaka (23). 

Dilruwan Perera fell quickly for a duck and, after a Leach finger tip saw Lasith Embuldeniya run out at the non-striker's end, Bess bowled PWH de Silva to complete his second five-wicket haul in Tests. 

England's reply stuttered early as opening pair Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley fell cheaply, both dismissed by left-arm spinner Embuldeniya to leave the score at 17-2. 

However, Bairstow – who hit a century when batting at number three in England's previous Test on Sri Lankan soil, back in 2018 – capitalised on his opportunity back in a team minus top-order regulars Rory Burns and Ben Stokes.

Root had needed a review to overturn an lbw decision against him on 20, but otherwise made serene progress to a half-century that means his team trail by just eight runs heading into Friday's action.

Australia and India will both make changes for the winner-takes-all-showdown in Brisbane, where a highly eventful series comes to a conclusion with the fourth Test.

The two nations are tied at 1-1 heading into the final game after India, despite being beset by injury issues, successfully batted out the final day to secure a hard-earned draw at the Sydney Cricket Ground. 

There has been little time for rest and recovery for those involved, while much of the media attention in the aftermath has surrounded the on-field behaviour of Australia's current captain, Tim Paine, and the man he replaced in the role, Steve Smith. 

Paine was fined for dissent after questioning an umpiring decision during the third Test, though it was his verbal sparring with Ravichandran Ashwin on the final day – plus a plethora of dropped catches behind the stumps – that put him in the spotlight. 

Now, though, the skipper and his side must focus on trying to secure a victory at the Gabba – a venue that holds good memories for Australia but less so India, who have failed to triumph there in six previous visits. 

The hosts will again have a new opening partnership on duty too, with Will Pucovski ruled out due to a shoulder injury after a promising Test debut. Marcus Harris will take his place at the top of the order. 

Australia are set to go with an unchanged attack despite the short turnaround - the previous game finished on Monday - meaning off-spinner Nathan Lyon will play in his 100th Test. 

India, meanwhile, have not given anything away in terms of team selection, though at least two changes will be needed to replace injured duo Ravindra Jadeja, who has had surgery on a dislocated thumb, and Hanuma Vihari.

Jasprit Bumrah is also reportedly a major doubt, potentially leaving the tourists without their leading paceman for the decider. 

"If he can play, he will play," India batting coach Vikram Rathour said of Bumrah on the eve of the game. "The injuries are still being monitored. Our medical staff is working with all the players.” 

It has been a busy trip for India's medical staff, that is for sure. Still, whoever takes the field for India will know a draw will be enough to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. 

 

LYON REACHES SPECIAL LANDMARK

Lyon will become the 13th Australian to reach a century of Tests, while he is only four away from reaching 400 wickets in the format.

"I look at the 12 other guys who have played over 100 Test matches for Australia, and they're pure legends in my eyes, not just for Cricket Australia but all around the world," he said ahead of the personal landmark. 

"I'm going to pinch myself each and every day to see my name amongst those players and be the 13th player to do so. It's pretty amazing. I've tried in the past not to look too far ahead, but I'm pretty excited about this one."

His career haul includes dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane 10 times apiece, making the India duo the batsmen he has dismissed the most in Tests.

PATCHED-UP INDIA CAN MAKE HISTORY

If India can record a victory and end Australia's 31-Test unbeaten run at the Gabba, they will secure back-to-back Test series triumphs on Australian soil for the first time.

It will be an even more impressive achievement when taking into consideration the absences. Captain Virat Kohli returned home after the first Test, while Mohammed Shami also only played the once.  Ishant Sharma, meanwhile, has not featured at all. Now, with Vihari and Jadeja sidelined, there will be a new-look middle order.

Wicketkeepers Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha could both feature; the former had his issues with the gloves in Sydney but made a counter-attacking 97 in the final innings that helped save the Test.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Australia are undefeated in their last 31 Tests in Brisbane (W24, D7). Their last defeat in such a fixture at the venue came in November 1988.
- A win for Australia in this match would secure three consecutive Test series victories - the last time they achieved such a feat was from November 2015 to February 2016.
- Pat Cummins has a bowling strike rate of 36.4 in Tests in Brisbane, the best of any player to record 500 deliveries there. His best Test innings figures came at the ground, as he claimed 6-23 against Sri Lanka in January 2019.
- Pujara has been removed four times (in six innings) by Cummins during this series, the most instances by any bowler against a batsman; scoring just 42 in response.
- Australia batsmen have been dismissed lbw on 11 occasions in the three previous Tests; India have only been out in that manner three times. All five lbw decisions at the SCG were against the hosts.

Will Pucovski has been ruled out of the fourth Test against India, with Marcus Harris to open for Australia.

Pucovski injured his shoulder during the drawn third Test in Sydney and the opener will miss the final game of the series, which is locked at 1-1.

Australia captain Tim Paine confirmed on Thursday that Harris would replace his Victoria team-mate for the Test in Brisbane, beginning on Friday.

"He tried to train this morning and didn't quite come up," Paine told a news conference.

"He'll have a bit of work to do with our medicos to see where he goes from here, but he's obviously missing this Test match and Marcus Harris will replace him."

Harris returns for his first Test since the 2019 Ashes and the left-hander has averaged 24.06 in his previous 17 innings at the level.

The 28-year-old scored 355 runs at an average of 118.33 to begin the Sheffield Shield season for Victoria, while he made scores of 35, 25 not out, 26 and five for Australia A against India last month.

Paine is looking forward to seeing what Harris can deliver as Australia aim for a series win.

"[He's] been working his backside off in our hub. He deserves his opportunity," he said.

"He's a really relaxed type of character, so he's one we certainly enjoy having in and around our group."

Australia are unbeaten in their past 31 Tests at the Gabba, winning 24 and drawing seven.

The Gabba is the only venue in Australia where India have played more than once without winning – drawing once and losing five times.

West Indies coach, Phil Simmons, has encouraged players who will get an unexpected opportunity to represent the regional team to make full use of it.

Following the withdrawal of 12 first-team players from the Bangladesh tour, the regional team will be made up of a majority of fringe players.  In fact, for the Test squad, four players could be in line for a debut with five having less than 10 caps.  The One Day International (ODI) squad contains 7 players who could be picked for the first time.

Despite being massive underdogs, however, Simmons believes the situation presents a unique opportunity for the inexperienced players that have been selected.

“My role and my message to all the players here: you’re not here to fill in, you’re here to give yourself a chance,” Simmons told members of the media via a Zoom press conference on Tuesday.

 “You have a chance now to seal your place in this team. If you do well here, that augurs well for you going forward.  You come here, you do well in the three games in the ODI series and the two-Test matches then you’re putting yourself in a place where nobody can move you, so you have that opportunity and only you have that opportunity,” he added.

 

West Indies captain for the upcoming Bangladesh tour, Kraigg Brathwaite, insists he does not see the current squad as merely a stand-in 11 but a talented group capable of winning games.

With 12 regular team players making themselves unavailable for selection ahead of the tour, after citing health and safety concerns, the Caribbean team will start as massive underdogs heading into the series.

The full-strength squad was comprehensively outplayed in 2018, with the hosts comfortably coasting to a 2-0 series win.  Brathwaite will lead a squad without the likes of Jason Holder, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, or Shamarh Brooks available.  While he himself, and the likes of Jermaine Blackwood, Shannon Gabriel, and Kemar Roach, will provide some experience, four players could be making a debut with five having less than 10 appearances for the West Indies.

“I think I have a good team here, a few guys haven’t played international cricket, some haven’t played in a little while but I know this team is fully capable of doing well at the international level,” Brathwaite told members of the media on Wednesday.

“The guys here, I don’t see them as second-string guys, I believe they can perform at the international level.  So, I know they are looking forward to the opportunity.”

 

Dimuth Karunaratne believes Sri Lanka have a "clear advantage" over England in the two-match Test series due to the tourists' inexperience of playing in the conditions they will face.

Joe Root's side completed a whitewash in Sri Lanka the last time they met in the longest format in November 2018.

England start the series in the Galle bio-secure bubble on Thursday with the aim of securing a third consecutive Test series triumph over Sri Lanka for the first time.

They will have a very different side to the one selected at the same venue just over two years ago, with Rory Burns, Ben Stokes, Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Keaton Jennings not featuring.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Ben Foakes is expected to be overlooked despite being named man of the series in that 3-0 success in Sri Lanka, while batsman Dan Lawrence is poised to make his debut.

Sri Lanka have won only one of their past seven Tests and were beaten 2-0 by South Africa recently, but captain Karunaratne believes they can respond against England.

"We have a clear advantage against this team, because they've got a few new players," the batsman said.

"From the last series they played against us, Stokes is not in their squad and Jennings is not in the team. And Stokes is the guy who balanced their team. The players in the current squad don't have much experience in these conditions."

Karunaratne, however, knows Sri Lanka - who are able to call upon Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Suranga Lakmal - will be in for a battle. 

 "That said, we shouldn't take it easy. They've prepared well, and I've seen how well they've prepared. They've also been playing cricket and they were the first ones to start playing Tests again after COVID hit.

"Their fitness levels are still up there. We only started again against South Africa, and because of the injury concerns, we've lost players."

Sri Lanka and England both have plenty to ponder over team selection as they prepare to finally face each other in Test action again. 

The nations were due to meet in March 2020, only for their two-match series to be postponed amid the escalating coronavirus pandemic. England were playing a tour game in Colombo at the time when the decision was taken to cut short the trip and head home. 

They have returned 10 months later for a rearranged tour, with the ongoing COVID-19 situation seeing them hosted in a bio-secure bubble for both games in Galle. 

However, Moeen Ali will miss the first Test – and possibly the next one that follows – after a positive test result upon arrival. Chris Woakes had to self-isolate having been considered a close contact, so missed out on England's only warm-up game. 

Moeen was joint-leading wicket-taker with fellow spinner Jack Leach - taking 18 wickets apiece - when England swept the hosts 3-0 on spin-friendly pitches when visiting Sri Lanka in late 2018, though captain Joe Root is aware the surfaces may not be the same now.

"We are very aware that the conditions might be very different to the last time we played here," Root told the media.

"We are not going to have too many preconceived ideas about what we are going to come up against. It's quite dangerous and lazy to walk into a series like that." 

The tourists are without Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes – who are both rested with a long tour to India to follow immediately afterwards – while opening batsman Rory Burns has remained in England for the birth of his first child. 

As for the hosts, a recent 2-0 Test series defeat in South Africa came at a cost in terms of injuries. Dhananjaya de Silva and Kasun Rajitha are both sidelined, plus Oshada Fernando has had no match practice after a spell out of action. 

However, there is good news over the fitness of batsman Dinesh Chandimal – who missed the second Test against the Proteas – and seamer Suranga Lakmal, plus former captain Angelo Mathews is back as Sri Lanka aim for a first Test win over their opponents since a famous triumph at Headingley in 2014. 


JONNY BE GOOD AGAIN?

With holes to fill in the batting order due to key absences, England are set to hand a debut to Dan Lawrence and recall Jonny Bairstow, who appears to be the choice to bat at number three with Zak Crawley moving up to open.

Bairstow made a century at that position in the previous Test against Sri Lanka, the third time in four first-innings knocks he has reached three figures against them. However, he has not played in the format since 2019, having lost his place after averaging 18.6 in 19 innings during that year.

Wicketkeeper Ben Foakes played a starring role for England in Sri Lanka last time, averaging 69.25 with the bat, but looks set to miss out on the final XI.

LEADING FROM THE FRONT

Captain Dimuth Karunaratne's century in the second Test against South Africa was one of few positives for Sri Lanka in a 10-wicket defeat in Johannesburg to start the new year.

The opening batsman has averaged 66 on home soil in Tests since 2018 (14 innings), though none of his 10 career hundreds have come against England. 

Having Mathews back should ease some of the run-scoring burden, too. The 33-year-old may not contribute much with the ball these days but does average 45.31 with the bat in Tests. He will go into the opening game needing just 19 more runs to reach 6,000 in the format.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- England have won their previous two bilateral Test series against Sri Lanka; they are attempting to record three successive victories against them for the first time.
- Sri Lanka come into the series having only mustered one win in their past seven Test matches (D2 L4); they have just suffered a 2-0 series defeat against the Proteas, losing the opener by an innings margin before slumping to a 10-wicket loss in the second match of the series in South Africa.
- The hosts have only lost once in five Test matches against England at Galle International Stadium (W2 D2). However, the most recent meeting between the sides at the venue was won by the tourists.
- Sri Lanka have managed to get the umpire's decision overturned in 23 per cent of their referrals in Tests since the start of 2019. Only Australia (22 per cent) have a lower rate; England's record stands at 31 per cent across that period.
- Despite making his Test debut in Sri Lanka over 13 years ago, Stuart Broad has only played three Test matches in the country. He has picked up three wickets there (averaging 83), but is six scalps away from going above Courtney Walsh (519) and into sixth in the list of all-time leading Test wicket-takers.

Australia coach Justin Langer slammed the criticism of Steve Smith, labelling it a "load of rubbish".

Smith was questioned after footage showed him standing at the crease and shaping up as if he was batting, including marking a guard, as India survived for a draw on the final day of the third Test in Sydney.

His actions at the crease forced India's Rishabh Pant to retake his own guard before play resumed, with the moment becoming a hot topic on Twitter.

But Langer hit out at the talk about Smith, who was sacked as Australia captain and banned for 12 months following the ball-tampering scandal during the tour of South Africa in 2018.

"I literally cannot believe some of the rubbish I read about Steve Smith, absolute load of rubbish," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

"If anyone knows Steve Smith, he's a bit quirky. We've all laughed about it for the last couple of years and I've spoken about it privately about how he's a bit quirky. What Steve Smith does at the crease, he does it probably most games, he's just thinking about the game.

"Anyone who suggests for one millisecond he was trying to do something untoward, way out of line, absolutely out of line. On that wicket, it was that flat, and it was like concrete, you need 15-inch spikes to make an indent on the crease and he went nowhere near the crease.

"I thought that was absolutely ludicrous and again in the last couple of years since he's been back, he has been exemplary on and off the field, he has let his bat do the talking, he was abused like I've never seen anything through England and he just kept smiling and letting his bat do the talking, give me a break, give me a break."

Australia captain Tim Paine, meanwhile, apologised on Tuesday for his behaviour during the third Test, including sledging Ravichandran Ashwin.

Langer backed Paine and said the 36-year-old would remain captain for the foreseeable future.

"You have no idea how much faith I've got in Tim Paine. He didn't have his best day, no doubt about that, but after three years, he has hardly put a hair out of place, he has been outstanding as the Australian captain, everything he does," he said.

"He had a frustrating day. We've got to cut him some slack surely. But having said that when you set a standard as high as he does and as we do, we understand we're going to get criticised when we fall below that, it's not what we're about.

"But Tim Paine, outstanding leader and will continue to be for some time to come yet. He has my 100 per cent support."

The series is locked at 1-1 ahead of the fourth Test starting in Brisbane on Friday.

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