Sri Lanka are flirting with an embarrassing series whitewash in the third Test against India that starts Saturday as they struggle with problems on and off the pitch which have thrown the team into turbulence.
A series of poor results, the early departure of their coach and accusations against players and the country’s cricket chief have made for a difficult few months for the former one-day world champions.
Sri Lanka, lampooned by fans and described as pot-bellied by their Sports Minister, can now ill afford a third loss to top-ranked India in Pallekele, following their crushing defeats in Galle and Colombo.
They have not been helped by a succession of injuries, capped by a back problem which has sidelined their number one bowler, Rangana Herath, for the third Test.
Paceman Nuwan Pradeep could bowl only 17.4 overs in Colombo before pulling out with a hamstring injury, and all-rounder Asela Gunaratne are already out of the series.
Sri Lanka failed to reach the semi-finals of the eight-team Champions Trophy in June, and then lost their coach when Graham Ford quit mid-contract.
Worse was to come when they humiliatingly went down 3-2 in a home one-day series to bottom-ranked Zimbabwe.
Former captain Arjuna Ranatunga, a government minister, said that he blamed Sri Lanka’s losses on cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala, and accused him of links to gambling — a claim Sumathipala denies.
There have also been reports of attempts to approach Sri Lankan players for alleged match-fixing.
– ‘Mental state’ –
Skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who missed the first Test with pneumonia, says a consolation victory over India would help put the smiles back on his players’ faces.
“If we can win even one match against a team like this (India), we will be able to really boost the mental state in the team. They are the number one team,” said Chandimal.
“We need to pick up the positives and look forward to the next game.”
There are no such problems for Virat Kohli, who became the only India captain to win two Test series in Sri Lanka as his side smashed first innings of 600 and more in the opening two Tests.
Cheteshwar Pujara leads India’s run-scorers with two centuries and an average of more than 100 in India’s three innings so far.
India’s bowlers have also shone with spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin topping the wicket-takers’ chart with 13 and 11 respectively.
Jadeja is suspended for the third Test for a dangerous throw, with Axar Patel brought in as his like-for-like replacement in the India squad.
Despite their form, wicket-keeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha insists that India are taking nothing for granted.
“We haven’t thought about 3-0. Our process is match by match,” he said.
“We are ahead by 2-0, so in the next match the aim is to give similar performance as last two matches as a team in batting, bowling and fielding. We will try to be consistent and if we do then we can win.”