Sa’adi Thawfeeq reporting from Pallekele

PALLEKELE: It will be the first time since July 2002 that Sri Lanka will be playing a Test match without their two most prolific batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara when the third and final Test against Pakistan commences at the Pallekele Stadium on Friday.

Jayawardene has already retired from all forms of cricket and Sangakkara on an agreement with the national selectors decided to extend his Test career till next month’s series against India, but on one condition that he plays only in the first two Tests of each series against Pakistan and against India.

Sangakkara having played against Pakistan in the first two Tests has gone back to England to fulfill his contract with English county Surrey and will miss the Pallekele Test. He is due to return for the Indian series.

The last occasion Sri Lanka played a Test without these two icons was in July 2002 against Bangladesh at the SSC when the selectors decided to rest them after the first Test and blooded youngsters for the second.

“It’ll be a little hard, but we have to get on with it and play our natural game. We have to look at our future,” said vice-captain Lahiru Thirimanne, one of the batsmen tipped to fill the positions vacated by Sangakakra and Jayawardene.

“The youngsters are doing really well. Yes, we have to all take that responsibility. We can’t always say we’re just youngsters. We’ve got to take it up as a challenge and fill that gap. Kumar’s and Mahela’s loss is there, but we’re trying to find a way to overcome that.”

Thirimanne stated that Upul Tharanga who was drafted into the squad for this Test would in all probability fill the no. 3 position left vacant by Sangakkara.

“It will be a long-term choice, because Kumar will play another two Test matches and we have to look at the no. 3 position. Hopefully, Upul Tharanga will play tomorrow and establish himself there,” Thirimanne said.

Sri Lanka’s new fast bowling ‘find’ Dushmantha Chameera has a question mark over his fitness for the Test. Chameera suffered a side strain and despite it continued to bowl in the Pakistan second innings where he took three wickets in the second Test at the P Sara Oval which Sri Lanka won by seven wickets to level the series one-all.

“Chameera has to undergo a fitness test. He’s 50-50 at the moment because of the side strain,” said Thirimanne.

The possibility of Sri Lanka opting for three seamers and one spinner was also there after seeing what the pitch has to offer.

“Normally the wicket here has a little bit for the fast bowlers. It’s good for the seamers, but spinners have also done well,” said Thirimanne. “Tharindu Kaushal bowled really well in the last match. It’s likely that we will play three seamers and a spinner in this match.”

With the series tied at one-all both teams will be pushing for a series clinching win.

“We have no intention of just taking a draw. Whether we end up winning 2-1 or lose 2-1, we are here with the intent to win,” said Thirimanne.

“As a team we did very well in the last match. The bowlers especially did well. Though they are inexperienced, they were able to show what they could do.”

Leg-spinner Yasir Shah has been Sri Lanka’s nemesis in the series having captured 17 wickets so far, but Thirimanne said, “We have a plan before we play the match. The first three days might not be that well suited for spinners here. But we can’t take him lightly, because he’s bowling pretty well. Each of us have different plans for him.”

(AFP picture by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi)

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