Australia have produced their most suffocating bowling performance for a long time. Throughout a fretful Sri Lankan innings, the visiting flingers forced their opponents to work for every run. Meanwhile, an alert captain set astute fields. It was a far cry from the gormless cricket observed in recent campaigns.
People keep saying the game has changed but mostly it stays the same. They talk about doosras, reverse weeps, Dilscoops and other innovations, and imagine them to be earth-shattering developments - but the basics do not change.
Australia's bowlers contributed superbly. Already the attack looks stronger. Not that it is exactly lethal or that every day will go as smoothly. Nor will every pitch be as bone dry or the opponents as supine. But there is honesty and professionalism in this combination that has been missing.
Every member of the quintet did his job, even Mitchell Johnson, its shakiest ingredient. Naturally, the newcomers will get most of the attention, and rightly so because they went about their work with quiet efficiency. Trent Copeland might have been playing grade cricket. By his reckoning, bowling is a simple matter of grabbing the ball, marking out a run and working away until some dimwit of a captain gives you a smoko.
Anyone watching Copeland would be impressed not so much by a single delivery as by how overs and spells are put together. It is a compliment that could be paid to the entire attack. His wicket, belatedly taken with his second offering, was the result of clever planning and precise execution, a tempter brilliantly held by a short extra cover placed a yard wider than usual.
Thereafter Copeland plugged away impressively. At times his gloveman stood over the timbers, another throwback. S.F. Barnes always insisted that the only three things that mattered in bowling were "length, length and length". As far as the great Englishman was concerned, the rest was hooey. Evidently, Copeland belongs to the same school.
Nathan Lyon claimed most of the wickets and most of the headlines but does not seem likely to let it go to his head. Naturally, he enjoyed the moment, and the catch he clutched to claim his fifth scalp was a corker. A mother has not held a baby as tightly. It was an astonishing result from a man with 14 first-class wickets to his name. Captain and selectors deserve credit for their audacity.
One haul does not make Lyon a world beater. Like Copeland, he is steady operator. Like his comrade, he does not rely on a special ball or anything at all except flight, accuracy and deviation. Above all he gets bounce, a priceless asset at this level. It was enough for Kumar Sangakkara, an expert practitioner, who nevertheless edged his opening offering to slip. Indeed, it was enough for several successors, none of whom seemed able to counter the turning ball.
At times, Lyon bowled a fraction short, but he spins the ball and keeps his head, and the selectors have been searching for that combination. It's early days but he seems to have the skills and settlement of mind to stick around. He likes bowling, and makes the batsmen think.
Not that taking a wicket first ball guarantees longevity. Arthur Coningham was the last Australian to strike first up, and he did not play again. Later he lit a fire on an outfield to keep warm, rescued a boy from a roaring river, had an unsuccessful stint as a bookie and sued the Catholic diocese after his wife was found entwined with the Cardinal's secretary in various parts of St Mary's Cathedral. Alas, he ended his days in an asylum. Lyon will be hoping for better luck.
Ryan Harris bowled only a few overs but the attack looks stronger when he is around. There is a reassuring sturdiness about him, and he takes the fight to his opponents. His fitness is going to be the problem and the think tank will be hoping that Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc continue their impressive form.
Johnson remains the main concern. The Queenslander is physically robust but technically and mentally fragile, and unless he performs consistently the new leadership might eject him. Here he bowled presentably and swiftly without looking particularly dangerous.
Shane Watson was the other wicket taker. His burst of three lbws in five minutes changed the course of the day. He did not seem as stiff as usual, and summoned a fair bit of pace. Bowling stump to stump served him well on a deteriorating deck. His role as fifth bowler is important to the balance of the team but it'd be a mistake to undermine his batting. Concentration is crucial.
Overall is was an outstanding effort by Australia, and confirmed that the new captain and old panel are working along the right lines.