Third Test preview: Sri Lanka v Australia
The pressure is on Sri Lanka as Tillakaratne Dilshan looks to avoid a second series defeat, with 20 Australian wickets looking like a tough ask.
The final stretch can often be the hardest for a touring side, but it would take a brave man to bet on Australia fading in their final match. For one, the schedule has ensured that their main ambition – a Test series victory – is yet to be achieved, so they are unlikely to suffer the same fate as England did in their one-day drubbing at the end of a long tour of Australia earlier this year.
Rather it is Sri Lanka who are under pressure as they try to work out how they can erase a 1-0 series deficit with the elements stacked against them. Their batsmen may at least take comfort from the fact that the leading wicket-taker in the series, Ryan Harris, has been ruled out of the Test, but with Australia's batting line-up strengthened by the return of Ricky Ponting and conditions likely to favour the batsmen, 20 wickets look a long way away.
Adding to Sri Lanka's concerns is the weather – practice at the SSC was rained out on Thursday, and wet weather is forecast for every day of the Test in Colombo.
Another factor which is beyond their control is the injuries which have hampered their bowlers in the series. Ajantha Mendis has played no part and will sit out the third Test with back trouble, but equally problematic has been the injury which has not allowed Angelo Mathews to bowl.
Without his overs of fast-medium Sri Lanka have been robbed of their balance, with Mathews playing as a specialist number seven batsman. Were he fit enough to bowl a good number of overs then a seamer could be left out at the expense of a third spinner, but instead the hosts have been forced to field two specialist fast bowlers and a couple of spinners, with Tillakaratne Dilshan performing duties as the fifth bowler.
The good news is that Rangana Herath, their most effective spinner in Mendis' absence, is likely to return for the third Test and will take the place of legspinner Seekkuge Prasanna, who went wicketless on debut in Pallekele. Otherwise they should be unchanged, with Kumar Sangakkara set to become the fifth Sri Lankan to play 100 Tests.
Australia have made two changes – one enforced and one expected. Ryan Harris' absence due to a hamstring injury will undoubtedly blunt the bowling attack, with Peter Siddle set to play his first international since the start of the year. There's no doubting Siddle's bustle; the question is whether he has the canny edge needed to pick up wickets on unyielding pitches.
Meanwhile Ricky Ponting's return to the side after missing the second Test for the birth of a child has revealed a new pecking order among Australia's batsmen. Usman Khawaja, who has promised plenty but produced no more than 37 runs in a single innings in his three Tests to date, has been bumped out of the side by a hugely impressive Shaun Marsh.
Dropping Khawaja so early in his career is harsh, but Australia's selectors realise there's no room for sentiment and the character of Marsh's 141 on debut was impossible to ignore.
Suddenly Australia's batting has a solidity to it which Sri Lanka's has missed for the majority of the series, and it would be impossible to begrudge them taking Sri Lanka's No. 4 ranking in Tests should they avoid defeat in Colombo.
<b>Key Men</b><br><i>Sri Lanka:</i> If Tillakaratne Dilshan is going to avoid the second series loss of his captaincy then he'll need his bowlers to fire. Suraj Randiv has disappointed, given the number of left-handers in the Australian line-up, and so the burden is like to fall on <b>Rangana Herath</b>.
<i>Australia:</i> The tour has thrown up positive moments for just about everyone in the Australian team so far, with responsibility shared around neatly in the opening two Tests. The one position which looks a little insecure, however, is that of <b>Phil Hughes</b>. Runs for him in Colombo would not only set up a platform for the big score that could take Sri Lanka out of the series, but would be a boost as the side looks forward to South Africa.
<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>September 2001, Second Test: Match drawn in Pallekele<BR>September 2011, First Test: Australia won by 125 runs in Galle<BR>November 2007, Second Test: Australia won by 96 runs in Hobart<br>November 2007, First Test: Australia won by an innings and 40 runs in Brisbane<br>July 2004, Second Test: Match drawn in Cairns
<b>Prediction</b><br>Flat pitch; dodgy forecast; best bowler of the series ruled out; two batting line-ups now in form. All the signs point to a <b>draw</b> at the SSC.
Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> has the draw as favourite in the betting for the first Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.
<b>Teams</b><br><i>Sri Lanka (likely):</i> Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Angelo Mathews, Rangana Herath, Suraj Randiv, Suranga Lakmal, Chanaka Welegedera.
<i>Australia:</i> Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (capt), Michael Hussey, Shaun Marsh, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Trent Copeland, Nathan Lyon.
<b>Dates:</b> 16 – 20 September<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:00 – 12:00 (04:30 – 06:30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 12:40- 14:40 (07:10- 09:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:00 – 17:00 (09:30 – 11:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Tony Hill and Aleem Dar<br><B>Third umpire:</B> Richard Kettleborough<BR><b>Match referee:</b> Chris Broad
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