Batting legend Sanath Jayasuriya has urged Sri Lanka’s cricketers to seize the chance to make history by completing a series whitewash over world number one Test team Australia.
With an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-Test series, Sri Lanka might be tempted to ease up in the final encounter which begins in Colombo on Saturday (August 13).
But Jayasuriya, one of the stars of Sri Lanka’s World Cup triumph in 1996, said that Angelo Mathews’ young side could create their own piece of history by inflicting a series whitewash on a leading Test nation for the first time.
“No one thought we would be leading 2-0, everybody thought it would be the other way round but we’ve turned it around as a team,” Jayasuriya, who is now chairman of Sri Lanka’s selectors, said in an interview in Colombo.
“If we can do that (win 3-0), then it’s history. So I hope the boys will realise that we have got a big opportunity.”
Sri Lanka had only beaten Australia once before in a Test, in 1999 when the likes of Jayasuriya and record-breaking spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan were in their prime.
The victories in the first two Tests were all the more unexpected as Sri Lanka have been sliding down the rankings and failed to win any of nine international matches against England on their recent tour.
Few observers had given them a hope of beating the Australians but Steve Smith’s side have admitted to being totally outplayed in the first two Tests in Palekelle and Galle.
A 3-0 clean sweep would be Sri Lanka’s greatest achievement since they were granted Test status in 1981.
It would also vindicate predictions from the likes of Jayasuriya that the team has a bright future despite the retirements of world-class batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in the last couple of years.
Sri Lanka’s match-winner in Pallekele was 21-year-old Kusal Mendis, who scored a superb maiden century.
While the veteran offspinner Rangana Herath grabbed the headlines in Galle by taking a hat-trick, the match-winner was younger spin partner Dilruwan Perera who recorded match figures of 10 for 99.
“We are in a transition period. We are going with youngsters at the moment with little or no experience,” said Jayasuriya, who was captain in Sri Lanka’s only previous victory over Australia 17 years ago.
“We had a lot of faith in them and we are very happy the way they played ... I think with experience they will learn, but they have to start somewhere and they started in Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka had endured a torrid start to 2016, being knocked out of the World Twenty20 as defending champions before the tour of England.
Jayasuriya said the batting in England lacked consistency but was now “just beginning to click”.
“They won (the first two Australia Tests) and won convincingly and that’s important. So the future for Sri Lankan cricket is bright.”
Sri Lanka had been languishing at seventh in the rankings before the current series, with the prospect of having to play nations such as Ireland and Afghanistan if plans for a two Test divisions are pushed through.
Jayasuriya said he was firmly against the proposal which could mean losing out on playing the likes of Australia and India.
“I don’t agree with the two-tier system,” Jayasuriya said. “And I am not saying because of Sri Lanka’s ranking, because we will rise after this series, but (the current system) is better.”
The International Cricket Council are due to discuss the proposal next month. India are opposed, which could lead to its demise.