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.
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.
Great to level the series. Dammika Prasad outstanding and the young batsmen leading the chase. Kaushal Silva and dimuth solid and mature.
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) June 29, 2015
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.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes a carefully-managed Adil Rashid could prove to be a key weapon in the upcoming Ashes series.
Moeen Ali is favourite to be named as the team’s spinner for the first Test, but Vaughan insists Rashid’s leg-spin may help mop up Australia’s tail and demands that he makes his Test debut.
One criticism of the 27-year-old from Yorkshire is that he bowls too slowly and while Vaughan accepts that misgiving, he believes he offers something that England are currently missing.
“He needs managing, captaining and bowling at the right time. I would say first innings on good pitches you’d have to manage him very well,” Vaughan said.
“A top order player with anything worth their weight in gold would have a little bit of a look at him and probably attack him.
“That’s when the captain has to come in and say ‘right, it’s not quite working, let’s save him for that tail’. The second innings when it’s a bit crustier he comes into his own.
“With the way that he bowls and the way England have really struggled to get rid of tails… it’s something different that England might surprise Australia with.
“I wouldn’t expect him to whip through the top order in the first innings, but with careful management and careful field settings he certainly can play a big part.”
Brad Haddin has the utmost respect for former coach Trevor Bayliss, but will give his fellow Australian a wide berth until they share a drink after the heat of Ashes battle has died down.
Haddin worked with Bayliss in New South Wales, where he was made captain, and more recently at Sydney Sixes in the Big Bash League.
The 37-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman believes Bayliss has all the credentials needed to be a success in the England job, having coached Sri Lanka from 2007-2011 and also enjoyed a spell as interim boss of the Baggy Greens during their Twenty20 series with South Africa in 2014.
However, Haddin will be going all out to make his first Test series a losing one.
“Trevor has had a massive influence on my career. It first started as captain as New South Wales, he gave me the chance to do that,” said Haddin, as Australia prepared for the start of their warm-up match against Essex in Chelmsford today.
“He is a great person and takes a lot of the anxiety out of the changing room and gets cricketers enjoying the game, will never rant and rave, is pretty even tempered.
“He is a really good appointment, and the bottom line with Trevor is he is a good man.”
Asked if it would upset him to see Bayliss in an England tracksuit this summer, Haddin said: “No, I could not care less from next month.
“Trevor is a career coach, he has had some wonderful success with Sri Lanka and New South Wales, everywhere he has been. That is no different to players who want to test themselves at the highest level.
“I called him to congratulate him on his role and said ‘I will talk to you after the fifth Test’.”
Haddin continued: “Ashes campaigns are totally different beasts to any other cricket, but no matter what has happened on the pitch with the result, at the end of the fifth Test, the doors of both changing rooms have been opened, and that has happened ever since I have been involved.
“We will all share a drink with him and maybe he might buy one now he has some pounds.”
Much has been made of sledging in the build up to this summer’s series, and there is certainly no love lost between the two squads on the field, despite the calls for a truce from both England bowler James Anderson and captain Alastair Cook.
“They start half of it! What about Jimmy Anderson? He has called for peace hasn’t he? He better look at himself in the mirror,” said Haddin. “I have never played in an Ashes campaign where things have got out of hand, this one will be no different.”