Australia vs Sri Lanka

Australia play Sri Lanka in an actual Test match on Thursday, and it is rumoured that the ICC have started an internal investigation to find out how such an anachronism got on the international fixtures list.

Australia haven’t played a Test since they farewelled their trio of stars in January; in that period they’ve played an abomination of ODI games and Twenty20 fixtures. These days, when the Australian players wish to get about town unrecognised, they wear their white Test outfits.

As to the actual game itself, the portents are not promising. Rain is forecast to play havoc for the first three days, no bad thing in itself, given the drought in Australia, but neither side comes into this game with much form. The Australian bowlers who played in four day cricket last weekend failed to impress, with the exception of Stuart Clark, and the Sri Lankans have likewise found the going hard, failing to beat a side comprising the best of Australia’s state Second XI’s, and then being defeated by Queensland. No doubt after so much ODI cricket, the disciplines of line and length, batting judgement and patience, have become a little rusty.

For all that, I’m looking forward to a good contest. Sri Lanka are, in my view, one of the stronger sides in world cricket, with a potent batting line up and a balanced bowling attack. It is a disgrace that Cricket Australia, for commercial reasons of course, has only invited the Sri Lankans to play two Tests. I do expect Australia to still win- even without McGrath and Warne they are a very powerful team, but it won’t be quite so easy as it used to be.

Australia give a first cap to Mitchell Johnson, and Phil Jacques and Stuart MacGill are recalled. Sri Lanka’s team is not quite settled, but they are hampered by the loss of Kumar Sangakarra with a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, in a further outbreak of Test cricket, South Africa host New Zealand. The main talking point there is that South Africa are not playing their veteran Shaun Pollock, preferring the younger brigade. Daniel Vettori makes his debut as New Zealand captain.

Australia vs Sri Lanka preview.

South Africa vs New Zealand preview.

England vs Prime Minister’s XI

Normally, the opening to an Australian summer is the ACB Chairman’s XI, but thanks to the poor scheduling of this tour by the villains at Cricket Australia, the 2006/07 Ashes campaign starts with England playing the Prime Minister’s XI, at Canberra.

These games have a long history, where the Prime Minister of the day has an input into the selection of the side. Normally it is just a bit of a lark for the civil servants and the Prime Minister, and a good game for fringe tourists to make their case.

Meanwhile, Australia’s younger talent get a chance to strut their stuff.

It’s never been taken very seriously, but this year, it was not only broadcast on Fox Sports, but the ABC radio team came out and covered the game.

This year’s PM’s XI certainly took dismantling England pretty seriously; after 50 overs, they ran up 5 for 347. English readers will be pleased to know that Flintoff bowled his ten overs and apart from one bad over was right on the money. The bad news was that Anderson was expensive and Mahmood was slaughtered. Both men have got lots of improving to do.

England’s batsmen will no doubt revive English spirits if they can chase that down. However, they will have the handicap of not getting quite so many long-hops, full tosses and half volleys as the Prime Minister’s batsmen received.

(Will: Muppets)