Shaun Marsh hit a gutsy 81 to steer Australia out of trouble at the start of the third and final Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo yesterday. Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan's decision to send Australia to bat on a damp pitch paid off as the tourists slumped to 22-2 in the ninth over.
Rescue act: Shaun Marsh drives during his 81 against Sri Lanka
Marsh, who made 141 on debut in the previous Test in Pallekele, led the revival to help Australia reach 235-5 by stumps on the opening day at the Sinhalese Sports Club. The left-hander put on 79 for the third wicket with Ricky Ponting (48) and 70 for the fifth with Mike Hussey (63 not out) to upstage a superb debut by Sri Lankan seamer Shaminda Eranga.
Eranga does a Lyon
Eranga grabbed a wicket with his first delivery in Test cricket -- just as Australian spinner Nathan Lyon had done in the opening Test of the series -- and ended the day with 2-52. Brad Haddin returned unbeaten on 21, having put on 45 runs so far for the sixth wicket with the ever-reliable Hussey. Marsh said he felt honoured when told he would bat at number three despite the return of former captain Ponting, who had made the position his own in the past.
"When I was told this morning that I will bat at three, I felt it was a huge honour," the soft-spoken Marsh said. "But it didn't really matter where I batted. I wasn't too fussed. "I knew I had a job to do and I just looked forward to have another opportunity to do a job out there. "I have really enjoyed my first two innings in Test cricket. I have loved every bit of being out there with the boys and tried to lap it up as much as I can."
Ponting, returning to the side after missing the second Test due to the birth of his second child, survived two confident appeals for catches behind the wicket before he had reached double figures. Television replays confirmed there was no bat involved and Ponting grew in confidence to help Marsh take the score to 63-2 by lunch. Ponting fell in the afternoon session when he attempted to drive a wide ball from Lakmal and only managed to edge an easy catch to wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene.
The 36-year-old, the third highest run-getter in Test cricket behind the Indian duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, has now gone 22 innings without a Test century. Ponting's last three-figure knock was 209 against Pakistan at Hobart in January last year. Michael Clarke, Ponting's successor as captain, also continued his poor run when he was caught behind off Eranga after making six.
Clarke has not hit a Test century since his 168 against New Zealand in Wellington in March last year.
Sri Lanka, looking for a series-levelling win in Kumar Sangakkara's 100th Test appearance, axed senior batsman Thilan Samaraweera and spinners Suraj Randiv and Seekkuge Prasanna.