Mathews puts faith on versatile XI
Adaptability has been among Sri Lanka's strengths in global competitions. Since 2007, they have put together their fine run of finals appearances by reacting quickly to the diverse challenges each new opposition and venue pose, during the competition. In recent years, Sri Lanka have achieved this with a clot of multi-skilled cricketers in the middle order.
Angelo Mathews has been chief among these, finishing innings with increasing aplomb, and maintaining economy with the ball when he can't quite manage to penetrate. Thisara Perera has contributed in both disciplines as well, and in the past, cricketers like Jeevan Mendis and Farveez Maharoof have been part of good campaigns.
Mathews has had his sights set on the World Cup for some time now, and as the build up begins in earnest, he hopes to make adaptability a cornerstone of Sri Lanka's next bid for global-tournament silverware. He had hoped to experiment with his XI in this series, but after Sri Lanka ran up a total of 310 and defended it with some comfort at Hambantota, Mathews has begun to feel Sri Lanka are zeroing in on a unit that is well-equipped to deal with any situation.
"The combination that we have can play on any wicket," he said. "I don't think we'll have to change the combination for the Dambulla wicket. It might have a little bit more carry than Hambantota. It might get drier and drier as the day goes on. It might be effective for the spinners. You can never predict it 100%. I think the XI that played in the last game can handle any sort of pitch."
The advantage with that XI is that Mathews has a wide array of bowling resources to call upon. There are the frontliners in Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Rangana Herath, but then Mathews himself, Perera and Seekkuge Prasanna are almost frontliners themselves. In that core group of bowlers, Mathews has the best death bowler in the world, a swing bowler who can be a threat at the start of an innings, an experienced spinner who exerts control, and a more attacking slow-bowling option in Prasanna.
Mathews and Perera themselves add variety. Both have cutters, slower balls and bouncers, but can also deliver line, length and seam. Beyond the bowlers and allrounders, Tillakaratne Dilshan is among the most reliable part-time spinners in limited-overs cricket, and Ashan Priyanjan also bowls finger spin. Although Malinga and Kulasekara had a poor outing in the second ODI in Hambantota, Mathews had the resources with which to pare back Pakistan's chase, unlikely though it was that the opposition would run down 310. The buffer his support bowlers provide, means there is more margin for error for the frontline bowlers.
"Not really worried about Lasith and Kule," Mathews said. "For example, if Kumar Sangakkara or Dilshan or Mahela Jayawardene fail in a couple of innings, we're not going to throw them out because we know the class that they have in themselves. Lasith and Kule know their mistakes and they will come back. We need to be patient with them because sometimes people can have rough patches and they will turn up and win you games. They are that quality. They've always been our pressure situation bowlers and we need to have faith in them. We don't need to get panicked. We still have time. We'll go with them."
On the batting front, Sri Lanka have twice made good scores despite few runs from the top three. A strong lower order gives the batsmen leeway as well. With batting down to Kulasekara at No. 9, Sri Lanka have rarely batted so deep.
"We're playing seven batters, and we expect at least a few to get the runs on that day. I'm pretty sure the top order will start getting runs, because they're not out of form. It didn't happen in the last two games, but I have faith in them. I'm sure if they get a good start they will carry on."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando