Mendis out of third Test
Ajantha Mendis will play no part in the Test series against Australia, having been ruled out of the final match in Colombo because of a back complaint, Sri Lanka's captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, has said. However, left-arm spinner Rangana Herath is on course to recover from a knock to his spinning finger and play at the SSC Ground.
Viewed by Australia as one of their chief threats entering the series, Mendis has been afflicted by back trouble since late in the ODI series and they flared up again on the first morning of the Pallekele Test, ruling him out of the match after he had been selected. The news is a blow for Sri Lanka, who need to find another way to pose questions for the visiting batsmen after Australia carved out a strong total in the second Test to place the hosts under severe pressure in their second innings.
"Mendis is out of the next Test, he has to rest for another week or another one and a half weeks to rest, without any bowling," Dilshan said. "I think Rangana now is getting back to [fitness], his finger is much better, I think he can start bowling tomorrow and see if he is okay for the next match."
While Sri Lanka had very little chance of victory from the moment they were bowled out for a measly 174 on the first day, Dilshan cited a stronger second innings as evidence that the series could still be turned around. Ever the aggressor, Dilshan said he had discussed with his team the possibility of scoring runs quickly on the final day and then sending Australia in for 40 or 50 overs. Such an optimistic scenario was not looking likely when the rain descended finally, as Sri Lanka led by only 80 with four wickets in hand.
"Definitely this is a very good batting performance," Dilshan said. "After three innings we batted from first Test to now, this is a very good performance for all the batsmen to get their confidence and we are carried forward by it to the last Test. This is a good sign for us as a batting group.
"We didn't bat well in the first innings of this match, but we can't control the weather. This is the same problem these past few years with the rain and we didn't get the result. But I'm really happy we fight back and come back really strong. We had a chat last night that we might bat first session today and then give 40 to 50 overs to the Australian side and try something to do, but unfortunately we can't control this rain."
The SSC pitch is famed for its friendliness to batsmen, and the trio of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera have been particularly prolific at the ground. Samaraweera's place is thought to be under some threat after a difficult first two Tests, and even his second innings 43 was a streaky display, including a dropped catch on nought.
"Normally the SSC wicket is a really good batting track and a flat wicket," Dilshan said. "I don't know what has happened there the last few days, it is raining in Colombo, we have to go there tomorrow and discuss with the curator what the wicket is like. Normally it is a flat wicket with help for the batsmen."
The match will mark 100 Tests for Sangakkara, and Dilshan observed that a win and a drawn series would be a fitting result to honour the universally respected batsman and former captain. "To play 100 matches is not easy, especially Test cricket," Dilshan said. "If we can give him a win in his 100th match I think it would be a good gift for Sangakkara."
A 1-1 series result would also keep Sri Lanka in fourth place in the ICC rankings, above Australia.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo