James Ranson: Clarke battles time for Boxing Day

Sportal Updated December 24, 2012, 2:49 pm

Australian captain Michael Clarke remains in doubt for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG with Sri Lanka as the hosts look to wrap up the three-Test series.

After an astonishing year during which he has averaged 106.36 from 17 innings, Clarke's injured hamstring will be given right up until the last minute by selectors.

Clarke managed 57 in Australia's second innings during the first Test in Hobart before retiring hurt and will leave a gaping hole should he miss, especially after Ricky Ponting's retirement from Test cricket.

If Clarke is not risked, Usman Khawaja will likely come in at number five with Shane Watson to assume the captaincy.

Australia can wrap up the three-Test series in Melbourne after their battling 137-run win in the first Test.

It didn't all go the hosts' way with some fifth-day heroics required from man-of-the-match Peter Siddle and left-armer Mitchell Starc.

With Sri Lanka digging in at 4-186 just before tea, persistence from Siddle, who finished with 9-104 for the match, and Starc's clinical dispatching of the tail ensured the game did not slip away from Australia.

Though the conditions in Hobart were tough and the bowling attack suffered another casualty in Ben Hilfenhaus, Australia will feel their overall performance was not up to standard.

Hilfenhaus' side strain saw him become the fifth Australian paceman to check into the casualty ward in what is becoming an increasingly worrying trend for national selectors.

Jackson Bird and Mitchell Johnson, who impressed on his return to the Test side in Perth, loom as the obvious candidates to replace Hilfenhaus, and there is a chance both will play at the MCG if Starc is also rested as part of Australia's rotation policy.

Nathan Lyon is expected to be favoured again despite an economical yet wicket-less second innings against Sri Lanka.

Lyon's time to stand up was on a worn day-five pitch in Hobart, yet he appeared more intent on rushing through his overs than claiming the first of six wickets Australia eventually got to secure the win.

However, his inclusion appears a formality given Australia's obvious lack of bowling options through injuries.

The MCG has traditionally catered more to the batsman and is expected to be similar to the one Phil Hughes smashed a match-winning 158 on for South Australia against Victoria in November, a knock that fast-tracked his Test recall.

Hughes will be intent on making this chance last and slotted in admirably at number three for the departed Ponting with 86 in the first innings of the first Test.

Surprisingly, the MCG Test will mark the first for Sri Lanka stars Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara despite Jayawardene having notched over 10,000 Test runs and Sangakkara on the cusp of doing so in Melbourne.

Sangakkara needs just 40 more runs in his 115th Test to join the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis to reach the milestone.

Tillakaratne Dilshan spared the visitors' blushes during the first innings of the first Test with a flashy 147 but Jayawardene's failure to fire in either innings with 12 and 19 will be a concern.

Sangakkara broke the shackles in the second innings with a hard-fought 63 and will need two big innings if Sri Lanka are a chance of claiming their maiden Test victory on Australian soil.

Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath will also be central to the tourists' hopes given the inexperience in their pace trio of Chanaka Welegedara, Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Kulasekara.

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