Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, PSS, Colombo August 7, 2008

Riveting series awaits fitting finale

With a top-score of 44 between them in eight innings, there is plenty to be discussed © Cricinfo Ltd

Match facts

Friday August 8 - Tuesday August 12, 2008
Start time 10.15am (0445GMT)

Big Picture

Sri Lanka v India has already made a strong claim to being called the Asian Ashes, as opposed to the contests between Pakistan and India who, over their last two series, produced some of the most unappetising Test cricket on pitches that didn't deserve any better. The matches in this series have been far more exciting than the victory margins seem to suggest. The first Test witnessed the coming together of two spinners who look set to form the most fearsome bowling duo since McGrath-Warne. Till as late as the final two sessions and a bit of a see-saw second Test, one team took a lead of some sort, only to be pulled back even before they could feel comfortable.

Not for the first time did Sri Lanka lay claims to invincibility at home, only for India to come back from the dead in the next Test. That's raised the stakes for the third Test: India have not won a series in Sri Lanka since 1993, and Sri Lanka are looking for revenge for the 0-2 hammering they received when they last toured India. If the teams can continue from where they left off in Galle, we are in for some match.

Form guide (last 5 Tests)

Sri Lanka LWLWD (most recent first)

Watch out for

Muttiah Muralitharan: Murali is not used to not contributing, and one of the key factors in India's success in Galle was that he took only 5 for 200, three of which were tailenders' wickets, after the damage had been done. He will look to make amends.

The Fab Four: Similarly, the famed Indian middle order is not used to failing so consistently. Between them they have managed one half-century in 16 innings. Their response will be interesting: will they master or be mastered?

Sehwag v Mendis: Two runaway stars of the series, both capable of turning a match around in a very short period. Without doubt Sehwag has been the best Indian batsman against Mendis, who has come across as a threat as big as Murali, if not bigger. Will they decide the series between them? Will Sehwag survive till Mendis comes on? If he does, will there be a repeat of Galle (76 in 83 balls) or the Asia Cup final (out second ball)?

Team news

Dinesh Karthik had done little behind the stumps in the first two Tests to inspire confidence in the bowlers and, with his captain among the bowlers to suffer, he may be axed in favour of Parthiv Patel, who last played a Test in October 2004. The rest of the line-up remains the same.

India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Parthiv Patel (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Sri Lanka decided to stick on with Michael Vandort - 17 runs in three innings so far - but were not as kind to Nuwan Kulasekara, who has taken one wicket in the two Tests. They are yet to decide whether they to pick Thilan Thushara, the left-arm medium-pacer, or hand out a debut to Dammika Prasad, whose pace has been a talking point ever since he was added to the squad after the first Test.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Michael Vandort, 2 Malinda Warnapura, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Thilan Thushara/Dammika Prasad.

Umpires: Mark Benson and Rudi Koertzen. Third umpire: Billy Doctrove

Pitch & conditions

The pitch is likely to be hard and bouncy, a welcome news for all parties involved: pace bowlers, spinners, and the batsmen. But if the conditions are pacer-friendly, India stand a better chance of exploiting them. Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for the five days of the Test, but that is expected in August in Sri Lanka. The thunderstorms in the first two Tests were not enough to rob us of a result, and the teams will be hoping for the same here.

Stats & Trivia

  • Sri Lanka have not lost a match at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium ever since Test cricket returned to the venue in July 2002; they have won four and drawn one. This is also the ground where Sri Lanka played their first Test, and later recorded their first Test win.

  • The last time India won back-to-back Tests was 19 matches ago - and that was the last and first match of two different series. Their previous back-to-back wins against the same opposition came against Sri Lanka in 2005-06 at home.

  • The spinners have taken 51 of the 66 wickets to have fallen so far. Ishant Sharma leads the pace bowlers with five wickets, while Zaheer Khan and Chaminda Vaas have managed four each.

  • Harbhajan Singh, who took his first away 10-wicket haul in the Galle Test, is 13 short of reaching 300 wickets. If he manages to reach the mark in this Test, this will be some comeback.

    Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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