Starc's bunny now Sri Lanka's big threat

Scott BaileyAAP
Australia's Mitchell Starc terrorised Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne with the red ball back in 2016.
Camera IconAustralia's Mitchell Starc terrorised Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne with the red ball back in 2016. Credit: AP

Meet Dimuth Karunaratne, the man Mitchell Starc made his bunny six years ago but who now looms as the Sri Lankan most likely to take down Australia.

At his best Karunaratne is one of the finest batters in world cricket, able to ebb and flow with the tempo of a game.

His current status as No.6 in the ICC Test rankings is proof of that, with the left-hander having averaged 60.8 in the past 18 months.

But he is also the Sri Lankan with the most to prove in the next fortnight.

He averaged a miserable 6.83 in 2016, as Starc removed him five times in six innings before backing it up with two more dismissals in Canberra in 2019.

Six years ago, Starc beat him with pace early in the series before having him play at balls he shouldn't have for scores of 5, 0, 0, 7, 7 and 22.

Realistically Sri Lanka now need the opener and captain to stand up if they are to reclaim the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy.

"We have a few plans (against Starc) and most of the players have played against him, so they have confidence to get him out of the way," Karunaratne said.

"We have prepared well in the nets and have used plenty of reverse swing.

"We know we have to tackle the spin well, but we have to play against Starc and Pat Cummins as well."

In general, the Sri Lankan team Karunaratne leads find themselves at an interesting juncture.

Gone are the household names from eras past, when the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Chaminda Vaas, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were the best in their class.

Even the two stars of their 3-0 rout of Australia in 2016 have both moved on, with spinners Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera now retired.

But this is not a Sri Lankan team without stars.

While Karunaratne is the key up top, veteran Angelo Mathews enters in form off the back of 199 and 145no in Bangladesh last month.

Dinesh Chandimal was just as potent on that tour and remains a threat on the sub-continent despite struggling on the bouncier wickets of Australia three years ago.

Dhananjaya de Silva also has reason to enter believing he can be a force, starring as a rookie against Australia in 2016 with the bat while also being able to turn the ball.

What Sri Lanka need is support around that quartet, particularly from their bowlers.

Lasith Embuldeniya leads the spin attack, while Ramesh Mendis and Jeffrey Vandersay will likely complete a four-pronged spin attack alongside Dhananjaya.

Embuldeniya took 10 wickets against England last year in Galle, but has also endured struggles in the recent Bangladesh tour.

Kasun Rajitha is then expected to play as the sole quick, 11 Tests into his career.

At least one of those bowlers must have the series of their life to replicate Herath's heroics and conjure a similar result to 2016.

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