MELBOURNE: On Friday, February 17, two different teams will represent Australia in two different matches on two different continents. The country’s best cricketers - Steven Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood et al - will begin a three-day tour game in Mumbai ahead of the first Test against India. But the match considered a full international is the one that will take place in Melbourne, where Aaron Finch will lead Australia’s Twenty20 outfit in the first of three games against Sri Lanka. It is a remarkable scenario, but one that will at least give a few new faces - Jhye Richardson, Ashton Turner and Michael Klinger, for example - an opportunity to represent their country. Still, the absence of such key players makes it hard not to view this as nearer to an Australia A outfit than the true national side. Sri Lanka enter the series with closer to a full-strength squad, although like Australia they are without their regular T20 captain - Angelo Mathews is unavailable due to a hamstring injury, and Upul Tharanga will stand in as skipper.
But it is a squad with plenty of changes from their most recent T20 group, with allrounders Dasun Shanaka and Milinda Siriwardana, as well as batsmen Dilshan Munaweera and Chamara Kapugedara included, having been left out of the touring party that won in South Africa last month. But the most notable inclusion is that of Lasith Malinga, who has played virtually no cricket for nearly a year due to injuries. It didn’t take him long to have an impact on his return against the Prime Minister’s XI on Wednesday: he struck in the first over of the game.
In the spotlight: This international call-up has been a long time coming for Michael Klinger. A long, long time coming. He made his first-class debut in 1999. He has piled up 22,163 runs across first-class, List A and T20 cricket - the most for any player prior to an international debut in the past decade (at least). He has been around three Australian states, two English counties, and gone grey in the process. At 36, he will be the fifth oldest T20 international debutant for any full member nation, behind Rafatullah Mohmand (Pakistan), Rahul Dravid (India), Floyd Reifer (West Indies) and Sanath Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka). Expect this to be an emotional evening for Klinger and his family. Lasith Malinga’s return will be watched with great interest, for prior to Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s XI game in Canberra, he had not played a high-level match since February last year due to injuries. But Malinga is one of the most accomplished bowlers in Twenty20 history - only Dwayne Bravo has more wickets in the format than the 300 Malinga has taken for nearly a dozen teams. Expect Australia’s batsmen to view Malinga as a man to be respected and seen off rather than attacked - even if he is a little rusty.
Team news: Australia have plenty of options to open the batting - Finch, Klinger, Ben Dunk and Tim Paine all did so during the BBL. The selectors also need to decide on the make-up of the attack, with Pat Cummins and James Faulkner potentially the only two certain starters in the bowling group. While, Sri Lanka might have given a pointer to their likely XI with the side they picked for Wednesday’s tour game, although there is a chance they might bring Nuwan Kulasekara in to strengthen the bowling.
Australia: 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Michael Klinger, 3 Ben Dunk, 4 Travis Head, 5 Moises Henriques, 6 Tim Paine (wk), 7 Ashton Turner, 8 James Faulkner, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Andrew Tye.
Sri Lanka: 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Upul Tharanga (capt), 3 Dilshan Munaweera, 4 Asela Gunaratne, 5 Milinda Siriwardana, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Seekkugge Prasanna, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Isuru Udana, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Vikum Sanjaya.