PALLEKELE: Sri Lanka will get a glimpse of a future without their batting greats when the decisive third and final Test against Pakistan begins in Pallekele on Friday.
For the first time in 15 years since Kumar Sangakkara’s debut in July 2000, Sri Lanka will take the field in a Test without either him or Mahela Jayawardene in the ranks.
Sangakkara, Test cricket’s leading current run-getter, committed himself to playing just two Tests against Pakistan and two more against India in August before retiring.
Jayawardene quit a year ago, leaving Angelo Mathews’ men the unenviable task of going into the decider at the Pallekele International Stadium with a young, inexperienced batting unit.
Mathews is now the leader of the pack with 48 Test appearances, but none of the other frontline batsmen have reached the 20-match mark.
“It’s obviously going to be difficult to fill Mahela and Sanga’s shoes,” said Mathews. “It will take time. Most of the time we won’t get the result we want, individually, or as a team. But we’ve got to be patient with them.”
Upul Tharanga, Jehan Mubarak and Kusal Perera are waiting in the wings to fill the number three position vacated by Sangakkara, who has 12,305 runs from 132 Tests.
Sri Lanka won the second Test at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo by seven wickets on Monday to level the series after Pakistan had take the first match in Galle by 10 wickets.
Both Mathews and his counterpart Misbah-ul Haq promised an entertaining finale at Pallekele, with both captains insisting they will play aggressive cricket in a bid to clinch the series.
“We are going for a win,” said Mathews. “We won’t be happy with a draw. Whatever the outcome of the game is, we have just got to play positive cricket.”
Misbah hoped his team will be inspired by Sri Lanka’s comeback in Colombo after being routed in the first Test.
“We are definitely going into the Test determined to win and we have the example of Sri Lanka, the way they bounced back,” Misbah said.
Misbah will be concerned by his bowlers’ inability to support leg-spinner Yasir Shah and the batting debacle in the first innings in Colombo when they slipped from 74-2 to 138 all out.
Shah is the most successful bowler in the series from either side with 17 wickets, but Pakistan’s next best is left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar with six wickets.
Worse, pace spearhead Wahab Riaz is injured and off-spinner Mohammad Hafeez is not available since he needs to undergo mandatory tests after being reported for a suspect action in Galle.
The tourists may drop seamer Junaid Khan, who has taken just one wicket in the series, and pick two from Rahat Ali, Imran Khan and Ehsan Adil to share the new ball.
Sri Lanka, by contrast, appear a more settled bowling unit as they head to a venue where all three previous Tests have been drawn.
Seamer Dhammika Prasad dominated the Colombo Test with seven wickets, debutant off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal claimed five wickets in the first innings and fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera produced fiery bursts.
Leading spinner Rangana Herath, who was expected to be Pakistan’s chief tormenter after grabbing 23 scalps in two Tests against them last year, has managed only two wickets this time.
“Even if he’s not getting wickets, he’s preventing batsmen from getting quick runs,” said Mathews, defending the veteran spinner.