Mahele Jayawardene will start his final match as Sri Lanka cricket captain in the third test against Australia on Thursday asking his players for a dramatic improvement if they are to avoid a series whitewash.

Jayawardene, who will relinquish the leadership after the Sydney test, said Wednesday that the Sri Lankans players have let themselves down on a tour that has so far included a laboured 137-run loss in Hobart and a dismal defeat by an innings and 201 runs in Melbourne.

The 35-year-old Jayawardene has had less than a week to lift a side that mustered just two scores over 30 across two innings at the MCG and now faces a firing Australia attack bolstered by the return of the rested Mitchell Starc and the rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson.

Jayawardene said it is up to the dwindling cadre of experienced players in the squad to coax a more focused performance from the side.

“It is a bit hard but it is about individuals taking responsibility and knowing what they need to do,” Jayawardene said. “If you sit down and look at what we’ve achieved in this series, it’s not that hard to say ‘no, we haven’t done enough.’ We need to really stand up and be counted.

“It has to come from within themselves but as a senior group, we just need to talk to them about simple things and execute simple game plans and try to stay in the game.”

Keeping the game alive into a fourth and fifth day is absolutely crucial to Sri Lanka, with the combination of a deteriorating pitch and spinner Rangana Herath representing the tourists’ most realistic shot at a first win in 13 attempts on Australian soil.

A lack of genuine pace and, in Hobart, some overly conservative field settings meant Australia’s batsmen needed only patience rather than adrenaline to rack up their runs.

“I haven’t really had a chance to look at the wicket yet but the best way we can try to win a test match is to create a situation for Rangana on a slow turner,” Jayawardene said. “We just have to make sure that until the fourth or fifth day we execute a good game plan and we stay in the game.”

Sri Lanka hung on until the final session in Hobart thanks to the combined efforts of Kumar Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews, but Sangakkara Sri Lanka’s best batsman and the only tourist to pass 50 in Melbourne is out this time with a hand injury.

Seamer Chanaka Welegedara to also on the sidelines with a hamstring problem, while Prasanna Jayawardene faces late fitness tests on the fractured thumb that prevented him batting in the second innings at the MCG.

Dinesh Chandimal will replace Sangakkara but Jayawardene said he is waiting on his wicketkeeper before deciding the makeup of the rest of the team. Nuwan Pradeep is likely to replace Welegedara, while Lahiru Thirimanne could also come into the side, with Chandimal keeping wicket.

But Sri Lanka’s biggest problem for its first ever test at the SCG could be a home side that is finding some real form.

Australia captain Michael Clarke has seemed untroubled by the absence of injured allrounder Shane Watson, with Johnson having hit an unbeaten 92 in Melbourne to go with match figures of 6-79 on his return to the side.

“His time away from the game freshened his body and also freshened his mind,” Clarke said. “He knows now in this group he is a senior player and he has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

“He needs to perform like a senior player, like he has done since coming back into the team.”

Johnson will bat at No. 7, allowing Starc to return after being rested in Melbourne. Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird round out a four-man pace attack, with spinner Nathan Lyon the other option.

Clarke will move up to No. 4, with Mike Hussey bumped up a spot to No.5 in his final test before retiring.

“Since I’ve been playing cricket for Australia, it’s been a contributing factor to our success that when guys retire it’s extra special to get a win in that last game for them,” Clarke said. “I’m certain this test match will be no different in regard to Michael Hussey.”

The match is the first at the SCG for Clarke since January last year, when he hit a towering 329 not out against India that set him on his way to an Australian record 1,595 test runs for a calendar year.

“That was a very special day and probably for the first time in 12 months I thought about it yesterday when I walked back into the ground,” Clarke said. “I’ve always loved playing here and I’ve always wanted to score runs here in front of my family and friends.

“But that was last year. It’s a new test match and I start on zero.”

More In: Cricket | Sport