A late Steve Smith run out highlighted Australia’s jitters in Sri Lanka after Nathan Lyon joined elite company with his 20th five-wicket haul in Test cricket. Lyon claimed figures of 5-90 to help bowl Sri Lanka out for 212 just after tea on the opening day of the two-Test series, before the tourists went to stumps at 98-3 in Galle.
On the same day Sri Lanka paid tribute to Shane Warner, legspinner Mitchell Swepson also vindicated his selection with a fine 3-55 as he at one stage took two wickets in successive balls.
At that point all was going well for Australia, as David Warner exploded out of the blocks in reply to have them 47-0. But as is so often the case on the sub-continent, a sting in the tail was still to come. In a chaotic final hour, Warner was trapped lbw for 25 by Ramesh Mendis, Marnus Labuschagne reverse-swept the spinner straight to gully and Smith was run out.
Hit on the pads on six, Smith took off after Usman Khawaja appeared to call him through and then hesitated. Smith turned and dived but was well short of his ground, making clear his fury and disbelief clear to Khawaja as he got up and stormed off the ground.
Australia’s situation at stumps could have also been far worse had Niroshan Dickwella not missed a chance to stump Khawaja on 36, before he finished the day unbeaten on 47.
But still Wednesday belonged to Lyon, who joined Clarrie Grimmett, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath and Warne as the only Australians to claim 20 five-wicket hauls. Derided for his inability to take command with his spin in the 2016 series against Sri Lanka, Lyon failed to take a five-wicket haul in the 3-0 flogging then.
He has since spoken about the lessons taken from that, including realising he needed to learn to bowl ugly on the sub-continent with more variations in his release point. Ultimately that disappointment has proven crucial, going from averaging 42.57 in the first five years of his career in Asia to 25.84 since.
He claimed the key wicket of Dimuth Karunaratne for 28 just after lunch on Wednesday, drawing his inside edge before David Warner leapt forward to take a one-handed catch at slip.
Angelo Mathews became Lyon’s next victim when he glided him straight to Warner at leg slip, before the offspinner ended a rearguard action from Dickwella (58) to run through the tail.
Swepson would have also walked away happy with his return, after appearing to be at risk of losing his spot following a difficult debut tour of Pakistan. After taking just two wickets for 266 runs there, Swepson’s first two scalps on Wednesday came with balls Warne would have been proud of.
Both drifted, dipped and turned to catch the edges of Dhananjaya de Silva and veteran Dinesh Chandimal.