<
>

It's going to be a turner again, Mathews warns Australia

play
'It will turn from day one' -Mathews (2:36)

Angelo Mathews talks about the nature of the wicket and Sri Lanka final XI in the 3rd Test against Australia (2:36)

In a week in which there has been mild consternation in Australia about the state of the Galle surface, Angelo Mathews has made no apologies about what the visitors can expect at the SSC: It will turn again, he said - get used to it.

With the island's ground curators directly employed by the board, Sri Lanka has long catered pitches to the team's needs. Against India last year, surfaces at the P Sara Oval and the SSC had seam and bounce, as it was hoped those qualities would enhance Sri Lanka's chances of winning (as it happened, India won both matches).

Against teams from further afield, and particularly Australia, tracks are made to spin, spin, spin.

Australia's cricketers have focused almost solely on their own performances. But it is clear that reports in the Australian press about "pitch doctoring" in Galle, have prompted indignation within the Sri Lankan team.

"We had to work really hard to win those two games," Mathews said. "We played better cricket than them. I'm hearing that the Aussies have not played good cricket, and the wickets were poor - I mean, come on, you've got to grow up. We play on the same wicket. They've got spinners and we've got spinners. They've fought really hard, but it's just that our spinners have bowled extremely well. Our spinners have exploited the conditions and bowled better than them. Credit should go to the whole team, the way they've worked extremely hard."

Home-team advantage appears to be increasingly sought in Test cricket. Over the past two years, Sri Lanka has played on pitches in Christchurch and Hamilton that were so thickly layered in grass, they were almost indistinguishable from the remainder of the square. The pitch at Headingley, in May, had been another green top. And often forced to tour temperate climates in their early summer (thanks largely to economic considerations), Sri Lanka have also been made to play in the colder foreign venues, like Dunedin, Leeds and Chester-le-Street, to cite three examples from the past eight months.

The SSC surface has lately ceased to be the wellspring of runs it has been in the past, and on the eve of the Test, appears at least as dry as the pitch at Galle. Sri Lanka have already confirmed their triple-spin attack - with allrounder Dhananjaya de Silva's offspin in support - will be set loose in the third Test as well.

"It's going to be a turner once again," Mathews said. "SSC has traditionally been a very good, batting-friendly wicket. But in the last few games against South Africa and Pakistan, it did take a lot of turn. We hope that it will take a lot of turn again from day one, and we hope that it will be a spinners' paradise."

On the batting front, the series win - and possibly some good catching - has bought openers Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne another opportunity. Sri Lanka has recently become the most difficult country in the world to score runs as an opener, but Sri Lanka's incumbent pair has nevertheless fallen short of the team's expectations. So far in this series, neither Silva nor Karunaratne has scored more than seven, in four innings apiece. Still, given their history of better performances overseas, Mathews said he and the selectors would grant them another chance.

"What the management and selectors think is that we can give opportunities to players who we believe can deliver," Mathews said. "When it was tough in England, Kaushal fought really hard and showed his character. After two games, we don't want to throw a character like him away.

"Dimuth didn't score runs in England, but he had got a big hundred in New Zealand and he showed his character there as well. Hopefully, he can deliver and everyone will get through that rough patch."

Dhananjaya de Silva had been one of the standout openers in first-class cricket this year, but as he is already settling in at No. 7, no other obvious opening candidates have presented themselves either. Mathews said the decision to retain Silva and Karunaratne had been made with a view to forthcoming foreign tours as well.

"If we have guys who have scored heavily outside the team, we can consider replacing the openers - but that has not happened," Mathews said. "We have got to keep in mind that the South African series is coming in a few months' time. We believe that this set of players can go to South Africa and do well. They are talented, and if they are given opportunities, they can come good."

Mathews now has the opportunity to effect perhaps the most high-profile 3-0 whitewash for any Sri Lanka captain. They have three other 3-0 results, but those came against weaker Zimbabwe and Bangladesh teams, and a modest West Indies outfit propped up by mountains of Brian Lara runs. A whitewash against the world's top-ranked team will likely be remembered fondly for years to come.

"We are extremely excited at the prospect," Mathews said. "We've trained harder than we had over the past two weeks, because we want to win it 3-0. Everyone is all geared up, and we haven't taken the foot off the gas."