PALLEKELE: Australia will be looking to local legend and one-time bogeyman Muttiah Muralitharan to inspire them to success on his home patch as the world's number one Test team begins a three-match series in Sri Lanka later this week.
Steve Smith's side will be desperate to reverse a poor recent away record against teams from the sub-continent when they will face Angelo Mathews men in in Pallekele on Tuesday, as India breathe down their necks in the race for Test supremacy as they edged closer to a first Test win against West Indies.
But while Australia's fast bowlers have been key to their success on home soil in recent years, their less celebrated spinners will have to step up to the plate against a Sri Lankan side who have been struggling of late.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon and slow left-armer Steve O'Keefe are both expected to be named in Tuesday's starting line-up after strong performances in the warm-ups.
Both have benefitted from working with Muralitharan, the leading wicket-taker in the history of Test match cricket who was hired by the Australians as a consultant for the tour.
The legendary off-spinner, who finished his Test career with 800 wickets in the longest format of the game, refused to tour Australia after prime minister John Howard branded him a "chucker", but Smith and Australian coach Darren Lehmann have been full of praise for his influence on Lyon and O'Keefe.
O'Keefe bagged 10 wickets in a warm-up match in Colombo last week, whereas Lyon was also impressive as he took two wickets in a tidy second innings spell.
"It's great to have someone like that helping our spinners in this series, to give us that insight," Smith said after Australia's arrival on the island. "He's been really good around the group so far, and he's enjoying his time with us."
Australia's lost all of their last six Test matches in the sub-continent, four against India in 2013 and two against Pakistan in 2014 in the UAE.
However, current Sri Lankan team, which was weakend after the departure of experienced duo Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakara, are seen as weaker opponents.
But Craig McDermott, who recently stepped down as Australia's bowling coach, said the Baggy Greens would not be taking their opponents lightly. "They [Sri Lanka] are in their own country, so everyone always plays better in their own country, we all know that," McDermott told AFP. "Australia don't traditionally play well in the sub-continent, away from home so they have got some things to prove, Darren Lehmann has got some things to prove."
Sri Lanka have recently returned home from a disastrous tour of England, where they failed to win any of their nine Tests and limited overs internationals.
Their squad for Pallekele has three uncapped bowlers, including pacers Asitha Fernando and Roshane Silva and spinner Lakshan Sandakan.
Sri Lanka last won a Test series against Australia back in 1999, when Muralitharan was the team's chief destroyer.
The hosts' skipper Angelo Mathews has acknowledged that the tourists will present a formidable -- but not impossible -- challenge. "Although we are playing against the Aussies at home, we all know that they are a tough side." he said. "While playing against the Aussies we should be brave and play positively, and if we do that we can beat them."
After the match in Pallekele, the second Test will be held in Galle from August 4-8 and the third will be in Colombo from August 13-17.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal
Australia: Steve Smith (capt), Jackson Bird, Joe Burns, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill, Steve O'Keefe, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, David Warner
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