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Big Burns, Head centuries put Australia in control

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Canberra, Friday: Joe Burns and Travis Head plundered Australia's first centuries of the home summer Friday in a stirring fightback as they ruthlessly exposed Sri Lanka's inexperienced attack in the second Test at Canberra.

Australian skipper Tim Paine won the toss at the Manuka Oval and put his side in on a flat track conducive to batting, a gambit that paid off after some early wobbles.

At stumps, they were a commanding 384 for four with Burns not out 172 and Kurtis Patterson, who was dropped first ball, on 25.

Head fell for 161 after a 308-run stand with Burns -- Australia's first stand over 200 since Steve Smith and Mitch Marsh achieved the feat in the third Test against England in December 2017.

Vishwa Fernando was the best of the bowlers with 3-99.

On a cool, overcast day, Burns and Head dug Australia out of a hole after they lost Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne cheaply to be in trouble at 28 for three.

After weathering the storm and as the new ball lost its shine, the pair started cashing in on a Sri Lankan attack missing their top bowlers and fieldsmen who put down a host of chances.

"We knew the first hour was going to be tough, bit of grass on the wicket, so despite losing the three wickets we just knew we had to absorb the pressure," said Burns.

"We also knew they were an inexperienced bowling attack that was going to present scoring opportunities if we got through those tough periods. Hopefully we can come out tomorrow and do much the same."

Back in the side after being overlooked for series against Pakistan and India, opener Burns survived a dropped catch on 34, but was otherwise invincible and brought up his fourth Test ton off 147 balls with a single.

His 172 surpassed his previous high score of 170 against New Zealand in 2016.

 


Burns' knock was the first century for Australia since Khawaja's 141 against Pakistan in Dubai in October and only the second an Australian has scored since the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney almost 13 months ago.

Vice-captain Head soon followed suit, reaching his maiden hundred off 155 balls in his eighth Test, capitalising on Dilruwan Perera dropping him on 87.

It puts the pair in prime position to be selected for the Ashes series later this year, with the Canberra Test -- the first-ever in the nation's capital -- Australia's last before their tour of England.

Their partnership followed a dire start against a team they had beaten by an innings and 40 runs in the first Test at Brisbane.

Pace duo Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera picked up injuries in that rout, with the inexperienced Kasun Rajitha and Fernando taking their place in Canberra.

And in a big blow, Suranga Lakmal, their best bowler in Brisbane, was ruled out on the morning of the Test with a stiff back, with debutant Chamika Karunaratne stepping in.

The three newcomers have only five Tests of experience between them, but they initially rose to the challenge. "First hour the ball moved a bit and our bowlers were hitting the right areas," said Karunaratne. "But after the first session... almost every over we gave a boundary. We have to stop that."

Harris fell for 11 with a poorly executed square drive off Fernando caught at point by Karunarante.

The out-of-form Khawaja soon followed, lasting just three balls before being caught at slip by Kusal Mendis for nought, leaving Australia on 15 for two.

The gloom continued when Karunaratne struck with his fourth ball in Test cricket, removing Labuschagne with an excellent angled delivery for six, caught behind by Niroshan Dickwella.

Burns watched the carnage at the other end and dug in, playing only the loose balls as he bided his time and waited for the bowlers to wilt.

Head did the same with both men accelerating the run rate once the pressure of scoring centuries was past. Head was finally undone by Fernando, who snared him lbw. AFP

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