August 12-16, 2017
Start time 1000 local (0430GMT)
India have arrived at Pallekele, and oh my, a 22-yard carpet almost as lush and green as the surrounding hills has been rolled out before them. The track is likely to be shaved before the first ball is bowled on Saturday, but nevertheless, this one may be a unicorn of an Asian surface, where teams consider strapping three quicks to the plough. The visitors have thrashed Sri Lanka on a batting pitch. They have spanked Sri Lanka on a bone-dry turner. Now they have the chance to collect the set.
With their most-experienced quicks and best spinner now unavailable for this match, Sri Lanka are now relying largely on surprise. The attack for this Test could be the greenest one in recent times – three frontline bowlers likely to have played fewer than 15 Tests put together. Sri Lanka are hoping that a batting order that has spent weeks preparing for Rangana Herath and Nuwan Pradeep will be caught off guard by Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando. The young quicks, at least, could not hope for friendlier conditions at home.
But the thing about this India side is that they have all bases covered. If they feel this is a surface that will be conducive to seam bowling, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is capable of running through sides in such conditions, becomes a strong contender to play. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami have also been intermittently menacing even on flat and dry tracks. Spying a pitch that suits them now, they will have their sights set on the kinds of heavy hauls that are rarely accessible to them on the continent.
Though there may be temptation to become complacent with the series so handsomely won, there are some statistical records that could spur India to maintain their intensity. They have never whitewashed Sri Lanka at home in a three-Test series. A victory here will also give them five straight wins on the island – all those achieved under Virat Kohli’s captaincy.
Sri Lanka LLWLW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
His hundred in the last Test may have been on a dustbowl, but Dimuth Karunaratne has prospered on seaming decks as well. His second-highest Test score of 152 came on a virtual plantation of a surface in Christchurch, against the likes of Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Though he has a modest first-dig record, Pallekele is one of the two venues in which he has scored a first-innings hundred – in 2015, against Pakistan. The most successful Sri Lanka batsman in the year so far, Karunaratne needs to carry his form right until the last innings of the series.
No Indian has scored three Test centuries in an away series of three Tests or fewer. Only one has managed that in India. Going by how the series has gone, it might need something special to prevent Cheteshwar Pujara from becoming the first. In Galle, scoring a flawless hundred in perfect batting conditions, Pujara made no bones about his greed for hundreds. He enjoys the difficult ones more, but he will never look away from easier ones. This, against a deflated home side, is a great chance for him to add to his 13 Test tons.
Dhananjaya de Silva may retain his place despite two modest outings at the SSC. The attack, however is difficult to pick. Dilruwan Perera will probably play, thanks in no small part to his recent batting form. Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando seem the likeliest quicks. Then the quandary becomes whether to field three seamers and play Dushmantha Chameera, or whether to select Lakshan Sandakan, who bowled well in his only Test at this venue.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt.), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 7 Dhananjaya de Silva, 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Dushmantha Chameera/ Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Vishwa Fernando, 11 Lahiru Kumara,
Virat Kohli will lead a changed XI yet again with Ravindra Jadeja suspended for this Test. Kuldeep Yadav should be a direct replacement for him, but India could look to rest one of the quicks. If the pitch is seam-friendly, three specialist quicks could play, leaving out either the allrounder Hardik Pandya or the second spinner.
India (possible): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 R Ashwin, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Hardik Pandya, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Umesh Yadav, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Mohammed Shami
Pitch and conditions
Pallekele naturally affords quick bowlers a degree of pace and bounce, and the colour of the pitch on the eve of the match suggested there would be seam movement for the first two days as well. This ground is one of the wettest venues on the planet, however, so expect rain to hold up play at some point.
Stats and trivia
- India have eight Test wins in Sri Lanka, which means they are tied with Pakistan for most victories on the island. If they win in Pallekele, five of their nine wins in the country would have come since 2015, and would also have come consecutively.
- Pujara is the leading run-scorer for 2017, with 843 runs at an average of 76.63. Karunaratne is fourth on that list, with 614 runs at 43.85.
- The two highest individual scores at Pallekele (Kusal Mendis’ 176 and Younis Khan’s 171*) have come in the second innings.
- There has not been a drawn Test in Sri Lanka for three years. Each of the 19 most-recent matches have yielded results.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.