Rangana Herath became just the second Sri Lankan to take a Test hat-trick as Australia endured a disastrous second morning in Galle, where their hopes of recovery in the series all but vanished in one crowded hour. Resuming at 54 for 2, the Australians lost their remaining eight wickets for 52 runs on the second morning, failing to survive even 20 overs of the day’s play.
Australia’s 106 was their lowest total ever against Sri Lanka, and their lowest total in Asia for nearly 12 years, since they were skittled on a Mumbai dustbowl for 93 back in 2004. But the most remarkable thing about this debacle was that, although Sri Lanka’s spinners bowled well and built the pressure on Australia, the pitch was far from a raging turner.
Australia’s woes were largely in the mind. Put simply, they had no idea whether each delivery was going to spin or not. As a result, they couldn’t decide whether to play forward, or back, and often ended up not particularly doing either. Herath finished with 4 for 35 and Dilruwan Perera with 4 for 29, and such was the speed of the collapse that Lakshan Sandakan was only brought on for two balls to finish the innings.
In the second over of the day, Dinesh Chandimal missed a chance to stump Steven Smith off Herath, and the Sri Lankans wondered how costly the error might be. Well, they wondered that briefly, at least. Within seven balls not only was Smith dismissed but so was his partner Usman Khawaja, and Australia’s collapse had begun.
Khawaja fell in the third over when he missed an arm ball from Perera and was bowled for 11, and Smith departed next over when he played back and tried to cut a slider from Herath, only to be bowled as well. So much for the “play straight” mantra Australia had tried to instil on this tour.
Then came Herath’s hat-trick: Adam Voges drove on the up to cover, Peter Nevill was trapped lbw by another slider, and Mitchell Starc completed the trio when he leaned forward and was hit on the pad first ball. Starc was given not out but Angelo Mathews asked for a review, out of hope more than anything, only to find that the ball had struck in line and was hitting enough of the top of the stumps for the decision to be overturned.
Only one other Sri Lankan had ever taken a Test hat-trick: Nuwan Zoysa, who achieved the feat against Zimbabwe in Harare in 1999-2000. Herath’s wickets left Australia at 80 for 7 and in serious danger of failing to reach triple figures. In fact, they still needed two runs to avoid the follow-on, which appeared by no means a certainty.
They did scrape past that mark but soon Nathan Lyon was caught in close off Perera and Josh Hazlewood edged to slip off the same bowler. Mitchell Marsh, at the other end while so much carnage was unfolding around him, slammed a couple of sixes to push the score past 100, but was caught at long-off when he tried for another off Sandakan’s second ball.