Kandy: Move aside Eden Gardens. Welcome Pallekele, the 104th Test venue which for grandeur is going to be hard to beat in South Asia. Only Galle can rival this venue for spectacular scenery and while the seven hills of this inland city are clotted with heavy rain clouds, they add to the backdrop of world cricket’s latest international stadium.
Although Kumar Sangakkara didn't quite suggest Sri Lanka will target the shaky confidence of the West Indies batsmen, you can feel that there will be bounce and pace in this pitch. It has a hint of green and a three-man seam attack is more likely than a mix of seam and pace as there has been in the first two Tests.
Sri Lanka at least managed a morning net session before the rain closed in and Sangakkara, offering his thoughts, shied clear of who of the spinners will miss out as the teams go into the final game of the series that has been soaked by rain since the third day of the Test at Galle.
"Hopefully Angelo Mathews will give us what we need for the third seamer," the elegant batsman, now heading the Test batting rankings said. "If he can be used in short spells of five overs, it will help our planning. It is hard to say at this stage who will be in the attack.
"To be fair, we need to have another look in the morning," he added, also indicating that Sri Lanka needed to justify its current ranking of three by winning matches. "We can only remain where we are, or move ahead, if we win more matches."
He was impressed with the venue, based as it is along the lines of SuperSport Park Centurion without the chalets. The sloping banks covering half the ground will make for good viewing when the weather clears. Certainly it is better for the spectators than Asgirya in the city itself. Accessing Pallekele is like going on a mystery tour.
With the Sri Lanka selectors retaining the same side which drew the second Test at Premadasa they have at least moved in a direction which would please Sangakkara. At least he showed a lot more positive frame of mind at Pallekele than at either Galle or Premadasa.
For one thing, fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, nervous as a pup the first time he bowled settled into a rhythm as the game wore on. His partner Nuwan Kalusekara was also steady without being particularly penetrative,
Sangakkara didn't say as much, but the need for the bowlers to get right length is going to be so important early on to give them confidence. It should have more bounce than Khettarama, which helped the seam and swing bowlers as well as the spinners. This became more obvious as the game went on, although it was the sort of pitch that didn’t have the old character of becoming flat by the last day.
This was all too obvious by the way the spinners began picking up wickets in a West Indies first innings seriously fractured by the rain and frustrated the Sri Lanka bowlers. Only once play was possible on the final afternoon, did it give a hint of what it could do.
Rangana Herath's left-arm accuracy as well and length teased the West Indies batsmen. They struggled on the slow surface as the bowler was full of guile as he had hit the right length and quickly had batsmen struggling. Even part-time Tillakaratne Dilshan collected wickets and sowed doubt in the minds of the West Indies batsmen.
Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss confided how had there been a full day's play the last two, there would have been a result. He was impressed how the spinners turned it to good use the on the last afternoon. It was impressive to see.
He also chided the way certain pitches were being prepared: two in India resulted in draws and the first Ashes Test in Brisbane as were the two between South Africa and Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates allowed for an avalanche of runs and record-breaking. Bowlers were seriously under the cosh in these games and it didn’t allow for a competitive game.
"It would be nice to see a result in a Test and also help the team with their ranking," Bayliss agreed. "But for rain, we would have been looking at a favourable result in the last Test. We'll see how this one works out, but it looks to be a good one."
West Indies coach Ottis Gibson, argued how West Indies were on a learning curve on this tour as the side was young but it had also shown character in being in a winning position in Galle, which was strangled by rain on days three and four. He felt the bowling attack was one which could add extra leverage to win a game this series.
"This is a new venue and it will be interesting to see how it behaves over the first three days to give us an idea of its capabilities," he added.