Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews. Photo: Getty Images
MARK Twain said he preferred to write his account of Tasmania before coming, because one always knew more about a place prior to visiting than afterwards. Likewise, commonly held opinions about the Sri Lankan visitors have not survived contact with reality.
According to wisdom, the fall of the twin pillars, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, would have the effect on Sri Lanka's batting of pulling whaling and woodchipping out of the Tasmanian economy.
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews could not be relied on against Australian bowlers in fresh conditions. Dilshan, an international cricketer for 13 years, is better known for inventing a shot that uses the 360th degree of the wagon wheel. As a Test opener, he had a suspiciously high strike-rate and suspiciously low average. During Big Bash season, he might have been mistaken for being in the wrong clothes and under the wrong light, like a possum out during the daytime.
Mathews, meanwhile, has played 171 short-form internationals and 28 Test matches. He has proved himself the acme of the white-ball cricketer: a bit of this, a bit of that, almost enough of the other. His resume of teams represented is already thick with franchises.
The four-hour partnership of 161 between Dilshan and Mathews reversed preconceptions and, for a time, the course of the Test match. After Michael Clarke's aggressive declaration and Sri Lanka's collapse on Saturday evening, the Test looked to be cutting a familiar path. Dilshan and Mathews might not have done enough to prevent defeat, but they did show a defiance not seen in their celebrity northern neighbours last year. Sometimes small islands off the southern tips of big continents can breed that determination.
Where subcontinental batsmen are said to flinch against the rising ball, Dilshan and Mathews were conspicuously strong on the back foot. The Australian bowling plan of getting into their armpits was met with spanking pull shots. When the locals overcompensated, Dilshan was sweating on the fuller ball for his square drive, which he plays lavishly. Unlike Michael Hussey, who closes his shoulders and jams the ball down, driving while moving forward, Dilshan lays back and gives the ball an open-handed slap, with added power coming from the compression in his knees. A permanent deep point was Australia's acknowledgement of defeat in this region.
Dilshan once scored 28 not out in half a day to save a draw against South Africa. He is more than just a piratical bandanna. His patience and straight defence on the up-and-down wicket were commendable. Mathews, 10 years his junior, learnt well. After a bright opening, he went through his barrens, scoring two runs in 47 deliveries when the Australians, after lunch, bowled their best. Mathews could consider himself unlucky to fall short of his second Test century.
The Sri Lankans were helped by another episode of what the military call a mobility kill.
Another day, another breakdown. Due to the input of Shane Watson, Ben Hilfenhaus' injury will not have as much of an impact as James Pattinson's in Adelaide, but the second innings will pose another challenge to Australia's self-confidence.
It was a pity Dilshan's innings, and a spirited contest overall, was not enjoyed by more than the couple of thousand Tasmanians. Local explanations for the paltry crowds have been interesting. It's too close to Christmas. Crowd numbers, per capita, are not too bad. Maybe it's too close to the South Pole and ticket prices could be moved closer to Tasmania's per capita income. A Taswegianly touchy local nabob repeated the 200-year-old riposte: ''If you don't like it, don't come here.'' Twain didn't like it, but came nonetheless.
The benefit for the few who did attend Sunday's play was they could feel the players knew them individually. There was a lively exchange between one patron and the Australian captain, who, it was suggested, ought to give himself a bowl. Clarke replied in effect ''Why don't you bowl?'' before reconsidering, in deference to the man's body shape.
Clarke even gave a dumb-show of the elbow-bending exercise the man had undertaken to achieve his physique.
At least, the man might have replied, he could still run and did not need to be rotated out.