Can confident Zimbabwe topple Chandimal's Sri Lanka?
July 14-18, 2017
Start time 1000 local (0430 GMT)
When last these teams met, Zimbabwe almost survived in the first game, but were rolled over in the second, taking Sri Lanka's Test-match winning streak to five. The world has changed dramatically since. Heading into this match at Khettarama, the hosts have a new captain, and new-ish head coach, and a startling dearth of confidence. As was the case with the ODI series, this spells opportunity for Zimbabwe.
Opportunity, because Sri Lanka will have only three days to recover from one of the most dispiriting losses in their recent history. Opportunity, because Zimbabwe, though they haven't played Tests since last November, have batsmen in form, a better set of fielders (on recent evidence), and are clearly the happier outfit in this tour.
The real test will be for Zimbabwe's bowlers. Though they triumphed in the ODIs, they took only 24 wickets compared to Sri Lanka's 35, and never bowled the opposition out. Also, in last year's Tests in Harare, Sri Lanka had scored 500 in each first innings, and controlled both matches from virtually the first day onwards. Graeme Cremer and his cohort of allrounders offer Zimbabwe a serviceable spin-bowling contingent, but the fast bowlers such as Tendai Chatara may have to contribute with early wickets - and he often did in the ODIs - to give their side a chance.
In addition to adjusting to a new leader, Sri Lanka may also do well to rediscover the old, infectious joy that once defined their cricket, but has been in short supply in recent months.
That SLC thought this would be a walkover tour is reflected in the packed schedule - three ODIs and a Test will be played in the space of 13 days. The reality is that Sri Lanka find themselves scrambling to avoid slipping on another banana skin, while Zimbabwe smell their first potential upset since 2013, when they defeated Pakistan at home.
Sri Lanka LWLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
While in ODIs, Dinesh Chandimal's form has been patchy, in Tests, he has been a markedly improved batsman. While once a flasher only capable of playing at a rapid tempo, Chandimal's two most-recent hundreds - against Australia at the SSC and against Bangladesh at P Sara - were hard fought and wrung out of difficult circumstances. It is partly that new determination that has seen him promoted to the captaincy now, and a quality he will require plenty of in this Test, as he attempts to inspire a team in significant flux.
On the opposite side, stands Graeme Cremer who in the ODIs made confident statements before the deciding game, then backed it up with brave performances with bat and ball. Whether Zimbabwe will have a realistic chance of victory at Khettarama may pivot upon the quality of his legspin. The pitch may provide assistance to the quicks to begin with, but usually holds its greatest rewards for the slow bowlers. Cremer has also had success against Sri Lanka in Tests, taking 11 wickets in that series last year.
Sri Lanka have decisions to make on the bowling front. Rangana Herath is certain to play, and Suranga Lakmal is likely. Lahiru Kumara may be the preferred second seamer, but it is unclear whether they will favour the experience of Dilruwan Perera for the role of second spinner, or if they will go with the more aggressive Lakshan Sandakan.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt.), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Kumara
Zimbabwe are likely to choose Chatara in their attack, given his success in the ODIs. Sikandar Raza may also earn a place in the XI on form. Perhaps to Sri Lanka's relief, Solomon Mire is not in the Test side. Regis Chakabva may partner Hamilton Masakadza at the top of the order, and it is possible Tarisai Musakanda will debut, at No. 3.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Regis Chakabva, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Tarisai Musakanda, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Peter Moor (wk), 9 Graeme Cremer (capt.), 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Donald Tiripano
Pitch and conditions
There was a light cover of grass on the pitch on the eve of the match, which suggests there will be assistance for the seamers early on. However, rare is the Khettarama surface that doesn't become spin-friendly eventually. There have been periodic showers in Colombo over the past week, and more of the same is expected during the Test.
Stats and trivia
- Dinesh Chandimal becomes Sri Lanka's 15th Test captain. In the past, he has led Sri Lanka's limited-overs teams, as well as captaining the Under-19 side in his senior school year.
- This is Zimbabwe's first Test in Sri Lanka since January 2002. In 17 Tests between the two sides, Zimbabwe have lost 12 without ever winning a game.
- This is Zimbabwe's first away Test since 2014, when they had lost 0-2 in Bangladesh.
"More than anything, we have the self-belief that we can actually push Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, which is big for us. We have the potential to score the runs as well as take wickets. Confidence is what we will take into the Test match most."
Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer on the effect the ODI triumph has had
"As a player and a captain I will sacrifice my time and my effort to make sure Sri Lanka reclaims a good place in world cricket. I need a little time for that. I am hopeful that with the players that I have, I can take Sri Lankan cricket to where it used to be."
New captain Dinesh Chandimal is hoping to change his team's present trajectory
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando