It was an afternoon Australian cricket badly needed, spearheaded by a young man who was the perfect story for a nation desperately short of good news in men’s cricket.
Jhye Richardson was magnificent on debut, his 3-26 from 14 overs ripping the heart out of Sri Lanka’s first innings on the opening day of the series in Brisbane, as the visitors were skittled for 144.
In response, Tim Paine’s men made their way to 2-72 by the close under the Gabba lights against the pink ball, losing Joe Burns (15) caught in the slips cordon and Usman Khawaja (11) chopping on the spin of Dilruwan Perera.
But that only slightly sullied their fine work with the ball, at 72 runs from parity with Marcus Harris (40) and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon unbeaten at the close.
Along the way, Mitchell Starc banked his 200th Test wicket as Sri Lanka lost five in a middle session that badly fell away.
On getting his name into the book for the first time, Australia’s newest fast bowling prodigy let out a roar that reflected how well he had bowled to that point.
Creating plenty of chances from the moment he sent down the second over of the Test, the 22-year-old got started with a gorgeous outswinger. Burns made no mistake with a diving catch at second slip to dismiss Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal.
With the score 3-58 as the players returned after the first break, Richardson was immediately into it again with a pearler to fellow young gun Kusal Mendis (14), splaying his middle and off stumps. When Dhananjaya de Silva (6) edged another lovely delivery, Chandimal’s side was 5-66; its innings all but ruined by the young man with the leaping approach.
“To see the ball swing was a big key for me,” Richardson said after play.
“If the ball is swinging I’m instantly more confident in what I am. To get that first wicket releases a lot of emotion and built-up tension you might have. Because the longer it goes on, the harder you might try.”
Reflecting on his huge year, Richardson added: “It’s been a massive learning experience for me. It’s happened so quickly. For me to able to gain as much experience as I can in such a short amount of time, to learn about the game, to learn about the experiences and pressure that comes with it. The more experienced I get, the better I will be able to handle it in the long run.”
In the opening exchanges of the day, Starc believed he had membership of the 200 Club when Lahiru Thirimanne was given lbw, but his papers were torn up when the decision was overturned on review.
He had to wait through a period that included a ropey second spell, but when Suranga Lakmal (7) edged a full ball into the cordon, the southpaw became the 16th Australian to the mark, in his 50th Test.
He repeated the dose in his next over to pick up Dilruwan Perera (1), via Marnus Labuschagne’s third catch in the cordon. As CricViz analytics noted, only eight active international bowlers have a better average than Starc’s 28.8 and just four have a superior strike rate than his 51 balls per wicket since his debut.
Pat Cummins opened the account with his eighth ball of the day, finding Lahiru Thirimanne’s (12) eager edge. He came back after the post-tea flurry to nick off Roshen Silva (9) before cleaning up the final two wickets, finishing with 4-39.
Nathan Lyon’s off-breaks also played a role at an important moment, Paine snaffling a fine catch from a hard-spun off break that defeated Dimuth Karunaratne (24) at the very moment where Sri Lanka’s assured opener was finding his groove. It was only right that every bowler did their bit.
Down the list for Sri Lanka, pocket rocket No.7 Niroshan Dickwella bashed and reverse swept and lapped and ramped his way to a carefree 64, the primary reason Sri Lanka was able to post triple figures. As fun as his innings was while it lasted, there was no doubting who the day belonged to.
“My big one was Dale Steyn,” Richardson said when asked who he had modelled his game on. “Similar sort of build, the untraditional fast bowler, quite skinny and not as tall as anyone else, he proved that he could be a class bowler with that sort of build and bowl at extreme pace. Breaking the stereotype of fast bowlers is what I’ve been trying to do.”
If Richardson can have half the career of the South African champion, Australian cricket fans are in for something special.
And on the evidence of his first performance in the baggy green, there’s nothing to suggest he can’t.