Colombo: Sri Lanka have been outplayed during this series but they could still escape with honours even, if they find a way to win at the SSC. Australia's 1-0 lead would likely have become 2-0 had rain and bad light not intervened in Pallekele. Instead, Michael Clarke and his men now find themselves needing to draw or win in Colombo to take the series. It won't be as easy as it appears. The SSC has been renowned for flat, batsman-friendly pitches in recent years, but draws haven't been the only result on offer. Of the past 17 SSC Tests, only four have been drawn and Sri Lanka have been beaten just once. The triumphant team? Ricky Ponting's Australians in 2004.
|Sri Lanka’s captain Tillakaratne Dilshan plays a shot during a practice session ahead of their third and final test cricket match against Australia in Colombo September 15, 2011. They will play their final test cricket match against Australia on Friday. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte|
Ponting will be back in Australia's side at No.3, having missed the Pallekele Test for the birth of his child. Usman Khawaja has been confirmed as the unlucky batsman who will make way for Ponting. Khawaja had good form behind him, having made a century in the tour match, but Shaun Marsh's debut hundred made him an irresistible prospect. There will also be a change in the attack, with Ryan Harris left out due to his hamstring problem, and Peter Siddle included. One thing that won't change is Australia's attitude: they will not be playing for a draw. "Our mindset must be the same," Clarke wrote in his Daily Telegraph column on Thursday. "Not one of us is in a position to take our foot off the pedal or start taking things for granted because the team has had a couple of good games."
Sri Lanka's strong record at the SSC should not be under-estimated, regardless of their recent form, and there will be extra incentive for the hosts to lift this time around. Kumar Sangakkara, not only one of the finest batsmen in the world but also one of cricket's greatest ambassadors, is playing his 100th Test. Four Sri Lankans have reached that mark before Sangakkara and Sri Lanka won every one of those milestone matches. The hosts will regain Rangana Herath, but most importantly they need some big runs from their top order.
Angelo Mathews hasn't been bowling during this series, so being included as a specialist batsman at No.7 meant he simply had to make runs. He has done just that. His 95 in the first Test, in a big partnership with Mahela Jayawardene, almost gave Sri Lanka a sniff of victory, and another half-century in Pallekele helped Sri Lanka avoid an even more embarrassing first innings. The kind of player who makes runs when it matters, Mathews does, however, lose patience occasionally and gives the fielding side opportunities. All the same, he has been the best player in Sri Lanka's lower middle order this series.
Shane Watson has now gone five innings without a Test half-century, his longest such streak since he started opening during the 2009 Ashes. He'll be keen to make the most of what is likely to be a batsman-friendly pitch at the SSC in Colombo, as he continues to work on his new opening partnership with Phillip Hughes. Watson has certainly been contributing with the ball, as arguably the team's best exponent of reverse swing, and despite his extra workload in the field, Michael Clarke is not considering shifting Watson down the batting order just yet. "It is something I'll continue to think about," Clarke told the Daily Telegraph. "I see Watto's bowling as very important for the team so in time, if it's best for the team, he might move down the order. But the priority is whatever's best for the team and right now I think that's Shane opening the batting."
Sri Lanka should regain the most experienced spinner in their squad, Rangana Herath, who missed the second Test due to a finger injury. However, the news was not so good for Ajantha Mendis, who did not play the first two matches and has been ruled out of the third due to a back complaint. Herath should replace the legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna, who made his debut in Pallekele and didn't pick up a wicket.
Sri Lanka (possible) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Chanaka Welegedara.
Ponting and Siddle have been named in the starting XI for Khawaja and the injured Harris. Ponting will slot back in at No.3, with Marsh to slip down the order to No.6. The selectors decided against blooding the uncapped fast bowler James Pattinson.
Australia (possible) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Shaun Marsh, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Trent Copeland, 11 Nathan Lyon.