Australia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sydney January 2, 2013

Batsmen need to take control - Mahela

Chief among Sri Lanka's woes after the deflating loss in Melbourne has been the form of its top order, whose torrid two-month stretch in Tests culminated in a gutless 156 and 103 at the MCG. As the final Test approaches, the batting appears just as brittle as the severely depleted pace attack. Their opponents have seemingly sensed easy prey, and opted for four seamers on a track that has traditionally been the most suited to spin in Australia. 

Sri Lanka's susceptibility to high-quality pace bowling was apparent even before they arrived down under, as they played out a drawn two-match series at home against New Zealand. Twice in their four innings there, Sri Lanka succumbed five wickets for less than 70 and were 102 for 4 in another. The only innings in which Sri Lanka crossed 50 unscathed was in their fourth innings chase of 92 in Galle, during which New Zealand's best bowler did not take the field because of a niggling injury. In Australia, they have lost four wickets for less than 100 thrice. 

Before the tour, it was the inexperience of the visitor's pace attack that had invited bleak assessments, but Sri Lanka's batting failures have only compounded their torment, as they have been forced to defend meagre totals on pitches that have largely suited batting. The prospect of a spin-friendly SCG surface always presented the best chance for Sri Lanka to win their first Test in Australia, but the visiting batsmen must extend the game to the last two days for Rangana Herath's left-arm spin to be effective, and they cannot afford the first-innings deficits that have seen them effectively relinquish any hopes of victory early in the match. 

There was a time where Sri Lanka's modus operandi in home Tests was to bat first, bat big and then unleash the spinners on the opposition on a wearing pitch, and despite his batsmen's recent form, that is the blueprint Mahela Jayawardene still hopes to follow in Sydney. 

"The best way that we can win a Test match is to create a situation for Rangana on a slow turner," he said. "We have to make sure that until the fourth or fifth day, we execute a good game plan and we stay in the game.

"The last two or three Tests have been a bit of a blip, but our strong point is our batting. That's where our experience lies and that's where we've controlled a lot of Test matches. We need to get that control back, whether it's with the mental side of it or the technical side, it's something that we need to address."

Shortcomings in both technique and temperament led to the collapses in Melbourne, with several batsmen out playing injudicious strokes in the first innings, while others struggled to handle the bounce and pace in Melbourne. Sri Lanka opted to train only twice in the five days between the matches, not wanting to risk further injury, but Jayawardene said his side had taken the time off to assess their weaknesses and regroup mentally.

"To try and get over that Test match [MCG Test] was the initial thing. It is pretty hard to shake off a loss like that, but I think it's also about individuals taking responsibility and knowing what they have to do. If you really sit down and look at what we've achieved through this series, it's not that hard to say, 'No we haven't done enough,' and that we need to really stand up and be counted. It has to come from within themselves as well.

"Teams do go through things like that and it happened to us at the Centurion. When we were in South Africa we lost in two and a half days and we bounced back to win the next Test. What we saw in Melbourne was that Australia had different gameplans against different players. The guys have to realise what they need to do in those situations. We've spoken about that."

Among the top order batsmen yet to make a significant score in the series is opener Dimuth Karunaratne, who will retain his place for the third Test. Karunaratne, 24, impressed the selectors with an unbeaten run-a-ball 60 in his first Test, but his highest score in four innings since has been 30. In Melbourne, his eagerness to take a tight second run began the collapse that saw them last less than 25 overs, but Jayawardene urged patience with the batsman, whom he hoped would justify his selection.

"When you have a run out sometimes you feel bad. The circumstance is that it was Dimuth in his second or third Test match and he probably had a bit more energy flowing in his veins because he's that kind of guy. When you make those kinds of mistakes, the guys will learn quickly. I personally feel that's a good investment for us for the future.

"We made a conscious call that Dimuth was going to be the second opener in this series, and the selectors backed it and said he'd get a good run whatever happens. That's the way to go about it in Test cricket. You need to give younger guys enough opportunities. You need to make them feel comfortable. If you can remember, Marvan [Atapattu] went through five or six ducks in his career and he came back and delivered for Sri Lanka."

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here