Australia v Sri Lanka: Jon Holland’s career takes sudden turn for the better

GALLE: Australian spinner Jon Holland had thought his Test career had passed him by but believes he is ready to handle the pressure in the second Test against Sri Lanka.

As Holland prepares for his debut, Sri Lanka was dealt a blow when fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep strained a hamstring at training and was sent to Colombo for scans. He could be the fourth local quick unavailable for selection because of injury.

Pradeep claimed two wickets in Australia’s first innings in Kandy, including opener David Warner.

Steve O’Keefe’s hamstring strain during the Kandy opener meant the tourists had to quickly find a replacement. That came almost too quick for Holland, who, having received a call from selection chairman Rod Marsh, remembered he still had not renewed his passport.

“I knew the week before. I tried to verify a betting account. I needed my passport and I saw it was expired,” Holland said.

Holland, 29, was able to fast-track a new passport, something which could also be said of his cricketing status this year. He has gone from back-up spinner to Fawad Ahmed in the Victorian team, to a hero of the Sheffield Shield final, to selection for Australia A when Ashton Agar was hurt, and now almost certainly the Test side on Thursday.

He toured India with Australia’s one-day international side in 2009 but did not play.

“I guess it was in the back of my mind that time was getting away from me but I really enjoy playing cricket for Victoria,” he said.

“They’ve stuck with me through three shoulder injuries and supported me and given me the chance to play cricket. I have to thank them. It’s all a bit surreal still and I will just have to wait and see if I do get the chance to play.”

The Galle deck almost certainly will take sharp turn, possibly from day one, as the hosts look to left-arm spinner Rangana Herath to retain his hold on the Australian batsmen.

Workers continue to get the ground on the southwest coast, with the 16th century fortress overlooking it, ready, in much the same manner as Holland is in terms of preparing himself for what awaits. He watched parts of the first Test in Brisbane while preparing for an Australia A series and has never played in Galle.

“I’ve been over here [Sri Lanka] a couple of times, I’ve been to India a couple of times, so I have been exposed to these conditions, but it’s been a while since I have been here so I will have to get a bit of a feel for it at training,” he said.

“We were here for the under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka – it’s a few years ago now. We came over here with a Victorian emerging players team and India as well and with the academy. I’ve been to India a few times.”

That may be the case but nothing will compare to the magnitude of being Australia’s 444th Test representative in a match the tourists must at least draw to have a chance of retaining the Warne-Muralidaran trophy.

The challenge before the tourists is great – they have never trailed in a series on the sub-continent and rebounded to win. Only three times in almost 140 years of Test cricket has Australia managed to do so on the road – all in Ashes campaigns.

“Obviously, I will be a little bit nervous if I do get a chance to play. I have worked hard on my bowling the last couple of years, I am pretty comfortable with where my bowling’s at,” Holland said.

“Hopefully, if I do get a chance, I can get myself into the game and get a couple of results.”

Holland has subtle changes of pace and can turn the ball appreciably, helping him to 106 wickets at 37.9 in 38 first-class matches. But what looms as pivotal in this series is the need to attack the pads and stumps, something Herath did so well last week.

“He knows the conditions extremely well here. He just bowls on the spot and knows how to subtly change his spin and variations and pace,” Holland said.

“I think just about every time he bowls the ball it’s hitting the stumps which is a big positive. I try to take a bit of that on board and try to do the same as that.”

Finding a quick way through the defence of Kusal Mendis, the match-winner in Kandy, will also be crucial for the tourists.

“You’ve just got to go out there and take the game on and be positive,” Holland said.

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