Colombo: Struggling Australia face losing their crown as the world’s number one team unless they can prevent a rampant Sri Lanka from completing a series whitewash in the final Test beginning this weekend.
Steve Smith, who had an unbeaten record as Test skipper ahead of the three-match series, will be desperate to go home with a consolation victory to prevent either India or England taking over at the top.
Australia were only handed the ceremonial mace that the International Cricket Council awards the top-ranked Test team at the start of the series and allrounder Mitchell Marsh admitted it would be a bitter blow if they had to hand it back so soon.
“It means a hell of a lot. It’s what we strive for,” Marsh said ahead of the final Test in Colombo.
“It would be very disappointing if we lost that — we haven’t had it for that long, we were really hoping to try and stretch the gap.”
Australia had only ever lost one Test match against Sri Lanka before the series but were totally outplayed by their hosts in the first two Tests who have belied their place at number seven in the rankings.
If Sri Lanka can win the series finale at the capital’s Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), it will be their first whitewash against a major team since they attained Test status 35 years ago
The SSC is traditionally a high-scoring venue but Australia’s batsmen have had a miserable tour and managed only one half-century between them in the defeats in the earlier Tests in Pallekele and Galle.
Australia could well call up the left-handed Shaun Marsh, who scored a century in one of the warm-up matches, after coach Darren Lehmann indicated there would be changes to the top order.
“Well anywhere from one to six (in the batting order), everyone in the squad will be considered,” Lehmann said. “That’s what happens when you don’t have the results you would like.”
If Australia do suffer a third defeat in a row, they will lose their top ranking to either India or England who are both leading in their respective series against the West Indies and Pakistan.
With their visitors in disarray, Sri Lanka know they have a wonderful chance of a clean sweep — an achievement which would be all the more satisfying after losing five of their last six series.
Sri Lanka’s trio of spinners — Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan — have been unplayable at times in the series and have taken 35 wickets between them.
“We have got good quality spinners. They know exactly how to bowl on these kind of wickets,” said skipper Angelo Mathews who says the team is determined there will be no easing up when the Test begins on Saturday.
“We want to win three-nil. We want to go for it in Colombo as well. We will try our best to do that,” Mathews told reporters.
Sri Lanka have brought in Suranga Lakmal for the injured seam bowler Nuwan Pradeep in their squad but they are expected to stick with the same starting XI which won the second Test in Galle last weekend.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Perera, Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan, Vishwa Fernando
Australia: Steve Smith (capt), David Warner, Joe Burns, Josh Hazlewood, Shaun Marsh, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Jon Holland, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges.