Chandimal banks on Kumara, Fernando to fill void
Sri Lanka are willing to try just about anything to win. There was the "high altitude" training camp at Pallekele before the Champions Trophy, the high profile appointment of Allan Donald ahead of the same tournament, three trips to Kandy's Temple of the Tooth over the past 13 months, a fast-bowling workshop with Wasim Akram, the appointment of a cricket manager, the appointment of a number of supplementary coaches and the elbowing out of Graham Ford.
In this series alone, they have tried to beat India on a flat deck. They have tried to beat India on a dry track. Now, they appear to be pinning their hopes on fast bowling, with what appears to be a seam-friendly surface unveiled at Pallekele. The only problem is that with both Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal unavailable for this Test, Sri Lanka are forced to rely on a seam attack even greener than the pitch they will play on. The most experienced frontline quick in the battery is Lahiru Kumara, who has played all of seven Tests. Dushmantha Chameera has played six Tests, Vishwa Fernando has played one, and Lahiru Gamage is uncapped in this format.
Despite the inexperience, Dinesh Chandimal did his best to appear upbeat ahead of what could be another rough Test match. Kumara and Chameera have both had impressive outings on such surfaces before, and they will need to recapture that form to end India's batting dominance in this series. Chameera, in any case, may not play ahead of Vishwa Fernando, who has been in the squad since the start of the series. Chameera was only added to the squad on Thursday.
"Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando are bowling really well these days," Chandimal said. "As the two senior bowlers are not in contention, it's a good opportunity for them to put their hands up, put us on track to a win, and show us what they've got. I think they'll take that opportunity. It's a big challenge for both of them, and for me as a captain."
Among the other things Sri Lanka have tried is trimming their training hours - partly also due to the prevailing bad weather in Pallekele. Though it seems counterintuitive for a losing team to practice less, Chandimal believed refreshed minds could put his team in better stead for this game than further sweating in the nets. In any case, Sri Lanka had had an extensive training schedule ahead of the first two Tests, and that approach had not prevented two thumping defeats.
Sri Lanka's practice two days out from the Test was optional. There was no training at all on the eve of the game.
"We did practice yesterday (Thursday) at the indoor nets because it was raining, but certain batsmen are not that keen on batting in indoor nets," Chandimal said. "Today, we were going to practice in the morning, but it rained and we lost the opportunity. The trainers gave us some exercises and we did them. We also thought it's good to come for tomorrow's game with a bit of a rest to the mind as well."
While the team has searched for creative solutions to their many problems, SLC has also intervened, having requested the team to attend a "recoup and regroup" meeting on what would have been the fifth day of the second Test, in Colombo. With SLC's top coaches also in attendance, presentations had been made and motivational speeches delivered. As is often the case, it is difficult to tell where the PR stunt ends, and where the cricket value of such an event begins. In any case, Chandimal said the meeting, which had also featured a pep talk by Aravinda de Silva, had helped raise spirits.
"That was a very important meeting. All the players were there and we discussed how we could take our game forward, and how we're going to win games. All the players also contributed their ideas to that. A lot of positives came out. At the end of the meeting, all the players were in a bit of an upbeat mood and that looks really good. After Aravinda talked to us, the players also felt confident."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando