July 6, 2017
Start time: 0945 local (0415GMT)
One comfortable pursuit of 317 for Zimbabwe, one crushing home victory set up by Sri Lanka’s spinners – not much about this series has been predictable, and the teams are now about to venture into more uncertainty. In the past two years, the ground at Hambantota has probably hosted more elephants than cricket matches, and no one is quite sure how the pitch will play after such a long hiatus. Will it tend to be on the faster, bouncier side, as it had been between 2011 and 2015? Or will it – as the hosts might prefer – take a little extra turn now?
There is also often a powerful crosswind to contend with, at the venue, which tends to favour the more adaptable side. In the past, batsmen who have chosen to base their innings around hitting with the wind have prospered in Hambantota: not only do their strokes carry further, the balls they hit into the air have also been notoriously difficult to catch. Sri Lanka, who have dropped no fewer than six chances across the first two games, may be especially vulnerable if the breeze picks up. Bowlers have also had highly contrasting experiences with the wind: it has helped boost the natural swing of some, and put others off their game completely.
Whatever the conditions, appropriate use of the sweep shot is likely to have come up in Zimbabwe’s team discussions over the past 48 hours. They had lived by the stroke in the first game, then died by it in the second. They may aim to be more selective in their deployment of the stroke in Hambantota.
Sri Lanka WLLWL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
All through the Champions Trophy campaign there was wonderment in Sri Lanka as to why Lakshan Sandakan was not in the XI. Now that he has taken 4 for 52 upon his return, the head scratching has only intensified. For now, Sandakan is not a bowler who offers a lot of control, and perhaps on the less spin-friendly tracks in England, the selectors and team management felt he may become a liability. However, if any bowler has appeared as if he may correct Sri Lanka’s inability to take wickets through the middle overs, it has been Sandakan. The selectors might do well to now provide him with a secure place in the side, in order to determine if he can in fact fulfill that wicket-taking role, in the longer term.
Though batsmen’s handling of spin has dominated the series narrative so far, it is the skillful seam bowling of Tendai Chatara that has brought Zimbabwe half of their eight wickets in the series so far. There is no booming swing or searing pace for Chatara, but so far in the series, there has been a discipline to his bowling, and even on an unresponsive Galle pitch, he was one of the only quicks to glean some movement off the seam. If he can quickly modify his bowling to suit Hambantota’s unique conditions, Zimbabwe could again make an early breakthrough, as they have in each of the first two games.
Spinner Amila Aponso and seam-bowling allrounder Lahiru Madushanka have been dropped from the squad for the last three ODIs, and in their place are seamer Lahiru Kumara and batsman Chamara Kapugedera (Suranga Lakmal was originally slated to be in the squad until he took ill). Unless the flu that has been making its way around the Sri Lanka side incapacitates another player on Thursday, the hosts may not wish to make a change to their winning XI, however.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Danushka Gunathilaka, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Upul Tharanga, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Wanidu Hasaranga, 8 Dushmantha Chameera, 9 Lakshan Sandakan,10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Despite the loss, Zimbabwe have a fairly settled outfit, and they may stick with the same XI. If any place is under scrutiny, it may be that of seamer Donald Tiripano. Chris Mpofu could potentially replace him.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Solomon Mire, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Sean Williams, 5 Sikander Raza, 6 Ryan Burl, 7 Peter Moor (wk), 8 Malcolm Waller, 9 Graeme Cremer (capt.), 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Chris Mpofu/Donald Tiripano
Pitch and conditions
Forecasts for this part of the country are notoriously unreliable, but the weather is expected to be dry and hot, with temperatures in the low thirties. How the pitch will play is anyone’s guess.
Stats and trivia
Sri Lanka have won seven and lost six of their 17 matches at Hambantota.
2017 is Chatara’s most successful ODI year so far, having taken 15 wickets in nine matches at 24.46.
In addition to having become the third bowler to take a hat-trick on ODI debut, on Sunday, Wanidu Hasaranga became the first Sri Lanka spinner to claim a hat-trick in the format.
“Assessing the conditions a little bit better is crucial. When the wicket is flatter like in the first game, you can play all your shots freely and chase down a huge score like that. In the second game it was probably not a wicket where you can go for your shots regularly. We need to do bit of work on that – assess conditions and stick to our plans.”
Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer
“Nuwan Pradeep has been our best bowler in the last three years in Test and ODI cricket, but for some reason he doesn’t pick up many wickets. He has improved his fielding too. He is one of the hardest working cricketers in the side.”
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews on one of the quiet achievers in his team