Pallekele International Cricket Stadium
August 12-16, 10:00 IST and local
Irrespective of how you look at Sri Lanka’s recent run of results across formats and competitions—as that of a team in decline or of a team who are in an extended transitional phase—you have to sympathise with the Islanders. The running of Sri Lankan Cricket has been pinpointed as the foremost reason for the poor performances of the national side. But non-cricketing reasons aside, the squad named for the three-Test series against India has several quality players. And at one point or another, those quality players (the likes of Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Nuwan Pradeep, and the audacious Niroshan Dickwella) have not failed to show themselves in a good light in the two completed Test matches so far.
Let us be honest with ourselves, no cricketer or any sportsperson, for that matter, likes or plays to lose, with the current crop of Sri Lankan cricketers being no different. But, when you are stuck in a rut, everything goes against you. Team India have put their hosts through a massive suffering so far in this Test series—because of the quality in their ranks and failure on Sri Lanka’s part to get the basics right (catching, batting big in the first innings and not throwing away your wicket once you have settled in)—and the Lankan Lions have looked worse than a side with their quality should.
Another reason to sympathise is the injuries to Asela Gunaratne, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Pradeep, and Suranga Lakmal, which have beset Sri Lanka and not allowed them to be more competitive. The fact that three of these players were injured during the Test match in Galle and Colombo literally handicapped the Lankan Lions. In the second innings in Galle, only nine batsmen were able to bat, after Gunaratne had been ruled on the first day and Herath injured his left middle finger. If cricket had rules like in WWE or boxing, which allow a player to give up the match if he/she is incapacitated, this Test series will have long been over.
But Sri Lanka will head to Pallekele with very little to play for in terms of this home Test series and in danger of being handed another hiding by Virat Kohli’s India. We already know that their main match-winner will not be playing and his absence will only weaken the hosts further. But Sri Lanka can draw plenty of inspiration from their second innings batting performance in Colombo, where they made India work hard for what eventually ended in an innings defeat. While the batting needs to come good, the bowlers, too, need to be consistent and a lot more incisive against an in-form Indian batting line-up. Sri Lanka haven’t had the rub of the green going their way with the toss either and India have leveraged the best batting conditions in both the Test matches.
The Indian cricketers and their support staff are having the time of their lives. They are playing cricket in one of the picturesque countries and on the field, have barely been made to sweat. The downside to completely dominating your opposition is you learn very little about yourself, individually and as a team. And Team India have anyway been a dominant side in the sub-continent for over a decade now, winning in Pakistan in 2004 and registering a Test series victory in the Sri Lankan island for the first time in 22 years. So, in terms of gains, Kohli and co. will not have many at the end of this Test series.
However, given how this Indian team work and the mentality they play with, you can be rest assured that they will want to whitewash Sri Lanka. And from the hosts’ viewpoint, this spells dooms.
Sri Lanka vs India head-to-head in Pallekele
The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium is a relatively new Sri Lankan Test venue, having hosted its first Test match only in 2010. And India have never played before here. In five previous Test matches, Sri Lanka have won one (against Australia in 2016), lost one (to Pakistan in 2015) and drawn three.
Kusal Mendis has very good memories of playing here, having single-handedly turned the course of a Test match against Australia last year with a mind-boggling 176 in the second innings. Sri Lanka were 86 runs behind after being bowled out for 117 in their first innings and Australia made 203 in theirs. Mendis’s century, though, gave his team a vital second-innings lead of 267 and through Herath’s heroics, they sealed a 106-run victory.
Of the bowlers, Herath averages 14.80 in three Test matches at this venue, having picked up 20 wickets, the most at this venue.
Pallekele Test: Sri Lanka vs India 3rd Test playing XI
Herath has been rested for this inconsequential Test match having complained of back pain and Pradeep, who picked up a hamstring injury on the first day at the SSC, has also been ruled out. So, Sri Lanka will have to make two changes because of injuries alone.
Dushmantha Chameera, who played against India back in 2015, is a possible replacement for Pradeep in Sri Lanka’s playing XI. Sri Lanka fielded just one pacer in Colombo and might bring back Lahiru Kumara to add variety to their bowling attack.
Sri Lanka’s likely playing 11: 1 Dinesh Chandimal (c), 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Kusal Mendis 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dhananjaya de Silva, 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Malinda Pushpakumara, 10 Lahiru Kumara/Lakshan Sandakan, and 11 Dushmantha Chameera
Ravindra Jadeja had played each one of India’s last 15 Test matches but has been handed a one-Test suspension for a supposedly dangerous throw at Pushpakumara. Axar Patel has been named as his replacement. Indian cricket fans were bemused by Team India’s decision to hand Hardik Pandya his Test debut in Galle and not field Kuldeep Yadav alongside Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja. But the UP chinaman spinner is likely to replace his Saurashtra counterpart in India’s playing XI for the Pallekele Test.
India might make only this forced change, unless they decide to rest someone like an injury-prone Mohammed Shami in a bid to manage his workload given the long season ahead.
Likely Indian playing XI: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Lokesh Rahul 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 R Ashwin, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Hardik Pandya, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami/Ishant Sharma, and 11 Umesh Yadav
As aforementioned, Sri Lanka’s batting needs to come good against an incisive Indian bowling attack boasting of the mysterious Kuldeep. But in the absence of their contemporary match-winner, I strongly believe that the Lankan Lions need India to self-sabotage, to stand a chance of winning this Test match. Given how well India have been batting, Sri Lanka need the toss to go their way.