Colombo: India and Sri Lanka were left to ponder the behaviour of an unusually greenish wicket as they delayed naming their line-ups for the decisive final Test starting in Colombo on Friday. (Virat Kohli’s Resurgent India Aim for Series Win)
The traditionally high-scoring pitch at the Sinhalese sports club (SSC) has undergone a dramatic change in appearance from a brown, flat track to a moisture-laden one that sports a tinge of grass. (Big Workload on Upul Tharanga After Kumar Sangakkara Retirement: Mathews)
Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews refused to hazard a guess on the relaid pitch even though the last time the hosts played a Test at the SSC a year ago, they swamped Pakistan by 105 runs to break a sequence of four successive draws since 2009. (Karun Nair’s Penchant for Big Scores at Vital Moments Gets Rewarded)
“After being relaid the wicket has a bit more carry,” he said. “As of now, there’s a bit of grass on the wicket. You can’t really predict a wicket 100 per cent. We just have to play it by the ear. (Karun Nair Likely to Make Test debut in Colombo, Pujara to Open: Kohli)
“It looks a sporting wicket. We just have to play positive cricket. The batters have to look to score runs, bowlers have to take wickets. We have to get the basics right.”
The series is tied 1-1 after Sri Lanka won the opening Test in Galle by 63 runs and India drew level with a thumping 278-run win in the second match at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo on Monday.
– New era in Sri Lanka cricket –
The Test marks the start of a new era in Sri Lankan cricket following the retirement of batting great Kumar Sangakkara from international cricket after the second Test.
Mathews confirmed that the 134-Test veteran Sangakkara will be replaced by another left-hander Upul Tharanga, who has played 20 Tests, but admitted Sri Lanka were undecided on the rest of the team.
“We still have not found the best combination,” the Sri Lankan captain told reporters on Thursday. “With Sangakkara now retired, we’ve got an opportunity to test our players in different positions.”
A finger injury sustained by off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal in the second Test has compounded Sri Lanka’s worries with Mathews indicating he will wait till Friday morning to finalise the team.
India, seeking their first series win in Sri Lanka in 22 years, will also not reveal their playing 11 till they had assessed the wicket before the toss, team director Ravi Shastri said.
“It’s far from being a finished product yet,” Shastri told reporters after inspecting the pitch before practice on Thursday.
– “We play to win” –
“There is still quite a bit of grass on it, but there could be another cutting of grass. Only then can we decide who to play.”
India, who have not won a Test series in Sri Lanka since 1993, will be without the injured trio of regular openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, plus wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
Shastri admitted the injuries had set the tourists back, but insisted India will continue to play positive cricket like they had done throughout the series.
“Fitness issues always hurt but nothing has changed from day one,” he said. “We play to win. We have got ourselves in a position now where if we win this Test, we will win the series which is massive.
“There’s no point being shy of going for a win. At the same time, it’s not a case of being over-confident. We have got to have the right balance and play proper cricket like we did in the last Test over five days.”
India are likely to bring in Cheteshwar Pujara for the first time in the series to open the innings with Lokesh Rahul in the absence of Dhawan and Vijay.
Uncapped 32-year-old Naman Ojha, a wicketkeeper-batsman who reinforced the injury-hit touring squad on Monday, is set to replace Saha.