Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah January 15, 2014

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sajitha on January 16, 2014, 7:31 GMT

    Nuwan Pradeep was the difference between 1st and 2nd match... And he is out... Isn't it funny? Changing the second match winning combination in to 1st match almost losing combination? Sri Lanka used 2 spinners for long time because we hadn't good fast bowlers, and suddenly when we got good combination of fast bowlers they changed it... Hope it wouldn't effect on the rhythm,form and the mentality of Nuwan Pradeep...

  • Pad on January 16, 2014, 6:29 GMT

    And I was spot-on with my team selection B-) . Lets hope Dilruwan will turn in to someone who can carry the spin attack.

  • Pad on January 16, 2014, 2:56 GMT

    The difficult decision is not choosing which spinner, to me its about which fast-man to be dropped. My gut-feel says it will be Nuwan Pradeep, as both Eranga and Lakmal showed they can handle heavier workloads compared to Nuwan. Which would mean Mathews will have to carry more all-rounder responsibilities, and he has done better in slow tracks in the past than in fast tracks. You need Prassanna specially in spinning tracks; you need higher wicket keeping skills in turning wickets than in seaming wickets!!!

  • ESPN on January 15, 2014, 23:17 GMT

    Winning combination always good, same team

  • ESPN on January 15, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    Same team, winning combination is better, can't expect much different in pitch

  • Peter on January 15, 2014, 20:35 GMT

    Really looking forward watching this match. Probably India & Sri Lanka are the best equipped batting line-ups to do battle on spinning tracks & have always enjoyed watching the art of batting on turning tracks. Like @jerryman, I hope the best keeper is selected, I am always of the opinion of your best gloveman should be selected, especially on spinning tracks. Wade is the best recent example of what not to do.

  • Jerry on January 15, 2014, 19:19 GMT

    Prassana must play in the test format. He is the best keeper we have. In the 2nd test he had 9 catches , he would have had 10 , one was ruled not out and SL did not have any reviews left. Test innings are long and sometimes batsmen can dig in for 3- 5 sessions . If Chandimal keeps wickets , he will possibly drop a few catches and a dropped catch can result in maybe another 50-100 runs and could affect the end result . if they decide 3 pacers/2 spinners either chandimal or karunatne will need to be dropped. Karunaratne is the better opener and perhaps diruwan /herath can score about 30-40 runs which chandimal may have scored. And Prasanna is a decent bat , may score about 40-50 runs both innings. Prsanna J must play in this important test as he is the best keeper for tests..We need a 2nd spinner , cos for any reason if Herath gets injured , we will not have a back up spinner .. If Sanga bowls his off breaks we will lose the match ...

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2014, 18:09 GMT

    As an Indian fan, I haven't been following this series but now it looks really interesting. It seems Herath is what has neutralized Ajmal to a degree. If Herath can keep one end screwed tight, its going to be difficult for Pakistan to win. Looks to be a great match.

  • Dru on January 15, 2014, 17:38 GMT

    I think this a bit unprofessional from Pakistan. Firstly all and sundry in the Pakistan team have been calling for spin tracks but its a Pakistan home series and they brought their curator to prepare the wickets. Now they are not sure which pitch they want to play on. Surely two days before the test you need to know which wicket is being prepared for the test! I dont agree with the idea of 6 batters and 5 bowlers. SL lead the series and Pakistan need to do the running, I would go for the same batting line up with an extra spinner in Sachithra.

  • Kushan on January 15, 2014, 16:48 GMT

    Agree with 'jerryman'.. Should go with 02 spinners + 03 pacers! That 2nd spinner should be Dilruwan Perera, coz in Mathews words, he turns the ball more!

    The one to sit out to me is Prasanna Jayawardana, eventhough he is the best wicket keeper, Chandi or Kaushal can do the job equally good. I dont think Prasanna is a part of the long term plans of SL team..

    So my bet is to go with 06 Batters, 03 Pacers and 02 Spinners...

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