Australia opt for two spinners against Sri Lanka
REUTERS - Australia will play two spinners in the first test against Sri Lanka at Pallekele on Tuesday, captain Steve Smith said as the world's top-ranked side eye a turnaround in their poor record on the slow pitches in Asia.
Smith confirmed his side on Monday with both off-spinner Nathan Lyon and left-armer Steve O'Keefe making the cut for the first match in the three-test series.
"I think he has always improved. Each year he's played he has improved," Smith said of O'Keefe, who took 10 wickets and made an unbeaten 78 in a tour match last week.
"In the tour match he bowled beautifully. He bowled the same ball and some skidded on and some spun - quite similar to (Sri Lanka spinner) Rangana Herath, the way he bowls in these conditions."
Smith, appointed Australia's test captain after the Ashes loss in England last year, is yet to lose a test when leading the side.
However, he will have his work cut out in Asia with Australia having failed to maintain their high standards in these parts barring a series win over lowly Bangladesh in 2006.
"We'd like to turn that around," said Smith, the world's top-ranked test batsman. "I think we've won one game out of our last 15 in the subcontinent.
"It's about making sure you have a plan from ball one as soon as you get out there and each individual is different."
Left-armer Mitchell Starc will be back after a long injury layoff to lead Australia's pace attack.
Smith wants his team to put pressure on the inexperienced Sri Lankan side, who are ranked seventh in the world, struggling after the retirements of batting greats Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
"They've lost a lot of runs in Mahela and Kumar, they were incredibly experienced players," said Smith. "They've got a pretty inexperienced line-up and we'll try to get on top of that as much as we can."
Angelo Mathews' side, who lost their last two test series in New Zealand and England, are reeling from injuries to their fast bowlers.
Dhammika Prasad and Dushmantha Chameera have been ruled out while Suranga Lakmal is also doubtful due to an ankle complaint. Shaminda Eranga was recently suspended for an illegal action.
"It has been a very frustrating few months," Mathews said, adding the team needed a bigger pool of bowlers.
"Not only one bowler, we've lost so many.
"At international level, I can't go as a captain and say we don't have bowlers. If we don't have them, we need to know how to produce them."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ed Osmond)