Young quick Jhye Richardson starred on Test debut yesterday as Australia made a strong start to the series against Sri Lanka.
Coming off three consecutive Test series losses – against South Africa, Pakistan and most recently India – Australia desperately needed to get off to a flyer in this two-Test series.
They did just that in Brisbane on the back of some wonderful bowling from Richardson (3-26) and Pat Cummins (4-39). That pair helped Australia roll Sri Lanka for just 144 before going to stumps at 2-72.
Cummins may have grabbed the best figures for Australia but it was Richardson who was the pick of the home attack.
While many players take some time to feel their way into Test cricket, Richardson looked at home immediately.
In fact he easily could have had a wicket with his first delivery, the ball lobbing off the bat of Lahiru Thirimanne just wide of short leg.
Then, with his fourth ball, Richardson had a big LBW shout when Thirimanne shouldered arms only for the ball to swing back into the left hander late.
Another close LBW decision followed from the first ball of Richardson’s second over when late swing, once more, fooled Dimuth Karunaratne.
Richardson continued to trouble both of these left handers throughout the first 45 minutes.
Finally, with the last ball of his sixth over, he grabbed his first Test wicket when he earned an edge from Dinesh Chandimal with a lovely ball that angled into the Sri Lankan skipper and then seamed away.
But it was Richardson’s second wicket that will have widened the eyes of cricket fans. Again he angled the ball in towards young gun Kusal Mendis and then got it to shape away so late that the Sri Lankan had no hope of countering this movement.
It rattled Mendis’ stumps, just as it would have done to any batsman in the world. It was nigh-on unplayable.
Then, to underline that he has brains as well as skill, Richardson set up Roshen Silva in classic fashion.
First he went wide on the crease and bowled two straight, back-of-a-length deliveries which carried on with the arm.
Then Richardson went closer to the stumps, pitched the ball up and watched it swing away from the driving blade of Silva, who was sucked in to edging it behind.
The late swing the debutant earned consistently was the result of Richardson’s beautiful upright seam position, something which was a feature of his bowling all day.
This ensured that he not only made the most of the swing on offer but also found plenty of seam movement.
When India beat Australia 2-1 last month it was notable that Indian quicks Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma each consistently had better seam position than the Australian pacemen.
Richardson’s great seam position and fine precision made him the most impressive bowler of the day from either side.
Australia then had to negotiate a tricky 25-over session under lights against a hooping pink ball. That swing accounted for opener Joe Burns, who nicked a fantastic delivery from Suranga Lakmal which swung sharply and very late.
Then experienced number three Usman Khawaja continued his very poor summer when he aimed a reckless cut shot at a delivery from off-spinner Dilruwan Perera which was far too straight for that stroke.
Khawaja’s irresponsible dismissal just before stumps gives him an average of 26 from five Tests this summer.
Marcus Harris finished unbeaten on 40 but was lucky to have done so. The left-hander has made a habit of wasting starts at Test level and almost did so again several times in the final hour before stumps.
Once he reached 20 Harris became skittish, playing and missing about half a dozen times. But he should find batting far easier today in the daylight against a weathered ball.
If he can push on and make a ton, Harris will steal a march on some of his teammates and book his Ashes spot in advance.
Speaking of the Ashes, Richardson’s swing bowling masterclass yesterday will surely have the Australian selectors wondering what he could do with a Dukes ball in England.