Australia’s century drought came to an end on Friday (February 1) as Joe Burns and Travis Head toyed with the second-string Sri Lankan bowling attack and notched up superb hundreds on the opening day of the second Test in Canberra.
Australian captain Tim Paine won the toss at the Manuka Oval and put his side in on a flat track conducive to batting, a gambit that looked to be paying off after some early wobbles.
Having been reduced to 28 for 3, Burns and Head turned the tide in Australia’s favour with a record 308-run partnership as the hosts ended Day 1 at 384 for 4 in 87 overs, with Burns and Kurtis Patterson unbeaten on 172 and 25 respectively.
Sri Lanka were without their frontline fast bowlers as Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera picked up injuries in the last match that they lost by an innings and 40 runs and have returned to their home country, with the inexperienced Kasun Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando taking their place.
And in a big blow, Suranga Lakmal, their best bowler in Brisbane, was ruled out on the morning of the Test with a stiff back, with debutant Chamika Karunaratne brought in as his replacement.
The three newcomers have only five Tests of experience between them, and they initially rose to the challenge.
Sri Lanka got off to a fantastic start as Marcus Harris fell for 11 in the fourth over with a poorly executed square drive off left-armer Fernando caught at point by Chamika. The out-of-form Usman Khawaja soon followed, lasting just three balls before offering a lazy jab at an out-swinger from Fernando.
He was caught at slip by Kusal Mendis for nought, leaving Australia on 15 for 2. Coming in at No. 4, Marnus Labuschagne (6) couldn’t contribute much either as he became Chamika’s maiden Test victim.
The visiting side were all over Australia before Burns and Head put their hands up to dig their team out of the trouble. After weathering the storm and as the new ball lost its shine, the pair started cashing in, ruthlessly exposing the inexperienced attack.
Back in the team after being dropped for the series against Pakistan and India, Burns survived a dropped catch on 34, but was otherwise invincible and brought up his fourth Test ton off 147 balls with a single.
It was the first century for Australia since Khawaja’s 141 against Pakistan in Dubai in October and only the second an Australian has scored since the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney almost 13 months ago.
Australia didn’t have to wait too long for “the third" centurion as Head crafted a drive in the first delivery of the 60th over to bring up his maiden international Test ton.
Both Burns and Head operated at a strike rate of over 70 and scored freely against most of the bowlers. Both spinners, Dilruwan Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva struggled against the duo and looked largely ineffective.
In the process, the duo also went past Steve Waugh and Dean Jones’s 260*-run stand against Sri Lanka in 1989 and now holds the record of Australia’s highest Test partnership for any wickets against the Islanders.
Once Head completed his century, he started to take on the Sri Lankan bowlers and got to the 150-run mark before Burns. The left-hander survived a couple of close call before being trapped right in front of the stumps by Fernando. Head scored 21 fours and a six during his 204-ball knock.
Sri Lanka could have gotten rid of Patterson for a golden duck if the forward short leg fielder wouldn’t have dropped a sitter.
It didn’t take Patterson too long to get his eye in, and added an unbeaten 48 runs with Burns who went past his highest Test score of 170 and is now racing towards his maiden double century.