Mathews braces for trial by spin
Unlike the first two Tests, the Sharjah match will be a trial by spin, Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lanka captain, said after inspecting the pitch on the eve of the game. Uncharacteristically for a series played in the UAE, fast bowlers have been the primary wicket-takers for both teams. Rangana Herath and Saeed Ajmal are the two top-ranked spinners in the world, but neither has been able to generate substantial turn in the series, save for with a handful of deliveries.
"It's not going to be anywhere close to what we had in Abu Dhabi and Dubai," Mathews said. "It looks like the main factors will be spin and some reverse swing."
There had been some confusion over which surface would be used, with the Pakistan team believed to have been unhappy with the pitch that had been prepared. Misbah-ul-Haq had asked for a turning pitch in Sharjah and he refused to comment on the nature of the surface before the match. Mathews revealed, however, that there had been talk of changing to another surface two days before the match.
"Yesterday when we came to the ground, they showed us the pitch we were going to play on, but in the evening we were told that another surface would be used," Mathews said. "In the end, I think we are playing on the surface that was originally prepared. This pitch doesn't look like it will help fast bowlers much."
Pakistan had appeared to command the better fast bowling resources ahead of the Tests, which Mathews suspected had been part of the reason why the first two pitches assisted seam-bowling more than usual.
"I've never seen a wicket as we had in Abu Dhabi before, and there was a lot of help for the seamers. Our seamers bowled better than their seamers, so we got more wickets than them," he said. "Having confusion is always good for us. It worked, but I think we have to start well once again here and can't be complacent against Pakistanis."
Saeed Ajmal has averaged almost 50 per wicket so far - his worst in a series in which he has played more than one Test. If the surface assists him, however, Ajmal could be a force in Sharjah, according to Mathews.
"He was a bit frustrated when he actually didn't get any wickets," Mathews said. "He's a very good bowler after all. He has a lot of control and the ability to pick up wickets at any stage. We are not looking down on him, because he can come back hard so we will have our guards on him as well.
"When you take their bowling line-up, they've got four very good bowlers. The three seamers were very good, so we had to sort of look at the whole bowling unit, rather than just Ajmal."
Sri Lanka played three frontline seam bowlers in Dubai, while Pakistan have fielded three seamers in both Tests. Mathews suggested either Sachithra Senanayake, who debuted in Abu Dhabi, or uncapped Dilruwan Perera would play on Thursday, at the expense of the third seamer.
"We might have to rethink our strategies and there may be a place for a spinner," Mathews said. "We still haven't decided who it will be, because both of them are very good bowlers. I know Senanayake had the opportunity and he hasn't done well, but we all know he's a very good bowler and can turn the ball on a good track like this."
The last two encounters between the teams have ended 1-0, but Mathews said his side had higher ambitions on this occasion: "We need to play positive cricket once again, because we will try to win it 2-0. We are not going for a draw here, because it sends a negative message to the whole team."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here