Jonhenry Wilson takes a look at the third Test between Sri Lanka and India set to get underway on Saturday 12 August.
Captain Dinesh Chandimal’s team will attempt to stave off a whitewash, while skipper Virat Kohli’s crew have already sealed an eighth straight series victory – and want to maintain momentum ahead of a challenging string of ODIs against the same opposition.
Sri Lanka lost the second Test inside four days – and remain hampered by a slew of injuries, while now is the time for India to test their blossoming bench strength.
Sri Lanka v India | 12 August – 16 August | Pallekele International Cricket Stadium
To Win Match
Sri Lanka 7/1 | Draw 33/20 | India 72/100
If the absence of fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep due to a hamstring injury wasn’t inconveniencing enough, the hosts must now do without veteran spinner Rangana Herath, who is nursing a troublesome back. Even more responsibility, therefore, sits on the shoulders of fellow slow bowler Dilruwan Perera, who bowled the lion’s share of the overs in Colombo – and will need to do so again in Pallekele.
While Sri Lanka don’t have a lot to show for their top- through middle-order over the past couple of weeks, the talented Kusal Mendis’ solid form has been a highlight. His second-innings century in the second Test was a marvel of defiance in the face of adversity – and one trusts another career-defining contribution will grace proceedings in the third.
Mendis, Chandimal and wicketkeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella were impressive enough on the sweep in Colombo, where the talismanic Ravichandran Ashwin was genuinely challenged by this effective shot selection. The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium might, however, offer more bounce than the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, rendering the stroke substantially riskier.
Pallekele has hosted six Test since its 2010 introduction, with Sri Lanka triumphant in just one. That victory was in 2016, when hefty contributions from Mendis and Herath humbled Australia. Three others have been drawn – and one lost to Pakistan. A second seems likely, particularly in the absence of Herath – and if Mendis can’t match his previous feat against the Aussies.
With all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja suspended due to an arguably unsavoury ball-throwing incident in Colombo and all-rounder Hardik Pandya likely to be sidelined for an additional spin bowler, India’s XI will sport a relatively new look in Pallekele. The young Axar Patel will probably replace Jadeja, while left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav deserves a go instead of Pandya.
India, too, could toy with a return for batsman Rohit Sharma. Rested for the recent ODI series against the West Indies and without a Test since October 2016, Sharma ahead of the hard-hitting Shikhar Dhawan seems the right fit for a deadrubber. Dhawan, after all, was a late replacement for the injured Lokesh Rahul and Murali Vijay regardless.
Opportunity, too, knocks for the talented Wriddhiman Saha to consolidate his burgeoning status as the best Test wicketkeeper in the world. Conditions in Pallekele – and a bowling attack containing a left-arm orthodox, wrist and off-spinner – will bring an intriguing examination for a man who, for a long time, lived in the shadow of the veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s sound glovework.
The weather forecast for Saturday through Wednesday in Pallekele, unfortunately, does not bode well for uninterrupted cricket. Days one, two, and three predictions reveal nothing less than an 80 percent of showers, before days four and five relent – but it might be too late by then.
Verdict: India 72/100
Nominally threatened by England, who recently leapfrogged the Australians to third place in the International Cricket Council’s Test team rankings, a third victory over Sri Lanka will certainly solidify India’s number one status – and keep second-placed South Africa at bay.