DAY one of the Boxing Day Test was, at least until the finals drinks break, set to be a triumph for Australia with bat and ball.
In the field, Australia had capitalised on some insipid batting to dismiss Sri Lanka within two sessions. At the crease, they were on track to overhaul the visitors' first-innings total of 156 well before stumps on day one, thanks to another encouraging opening stand between Ed Cowan and chief slayer David Warner.
Out ... Ed Cowan of Australia looks dejected after being dismissed by Dhammika Prasad. Photo: Getty Images
Going to stumps only six runs in arrears with seven wickets in hand, and with captain Michael Clarke at the crease on 20 showing no signs of his recent hamstring strain, was cause enough for Australia to be well pleased. However, the three wickets they conceded in the last 23 overs of day one provided kernels of encouragement for Sri Lanka. If Australia are to return to the No.1 Test spot they must learn that when they are so dominant, as in this match, that even those few kernels are too much.
South Africa set that standard in Perth. When they secured a 62-run first-innings lead by dismissing Australia cheaply on day two of the recent series-deciding Test, they converted that hefty advantage over the home team into a pummelling by racing to 2-230 by stumps.
When Warner was in full flight in the third session, Australia were scoring more than five runs an over and were on track to build a 50-run lead by stumps. While it would not have been a thrashing of recent WACA Ground proportions, a scorecard that read one or two wickets down for 210 at the end of day one would have been severely dispiriting for a team in Sri Lanka's position. It would also have served notice to all Australia's looming opponents of their intent to ruthlessly exploit their advantage.
Deserving of a century … David Warner at the crease on his way to 62. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The 3-150 produced by the end of the last session delivered a day's performance that sat comfortably in the ''good'' or even ''very good'' category but short of ''great''. Such standards are high but they are the type Clarke, coach Mickey Arthur and the rest of the Australian hierarchy are seeking to instil in the team.
Australia's batsmen had freedom to bat aggressively by virtue of chasing only 156. Debutant seamer Jackson Bird was rewarded for his uncomplicated, nagging line-and-length philosophy with the early wicket of Dimuth Karunaratne, who was followed within the hour by Tillakaratne Dilshan and captain Mahela Jayawardene.
Being three down at lunch is not ideal for a team that chose to bat first but there are numerous precedents of teams then recovering to finish the day in the ascendancy. No team, however, can expect to come close to breaking even by conceding 7-77 in a session on an unthreatening pitch.
Boxing Day Test: Day one highlights
Mitchell Johnson’s pace overpowered Sri Lanka who were bowled out for 156 on he opening day of the second Test before Australia reached 3-150. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Sri Lanka deserved to be castigated for their lack of concentration.
Australia began their innings with great restraint, scoring only a single boundary in the first seven overs but surged as Warner hit out.
By the 12th over, the left-hander had 50 runs to his name thanks to some robust cuts, drive and one brutal heave off Chanaka Welegedara over the fence. After an hour Australia were 0-90, with Cowan's scoring rate of 30 from 57 inadequate only in comparison with his exuberant partner, who now has three consecutive half-centuries.
Warner's latest innings was perhaps most deserving of a century, such was the ease with which he was handling the Sri Lankan bowlers.
Of the three wickets Australia lost within seven overs, rounded out by the departures of Phillip Hughes (10) and Cowan (36), the most disappointing was Hughes. He lacked the intensity the team had shown until then as he was slow to react to a call for a quick single when it was there for the taking.