Any signs about the Sri Lankan side visiting the West Indies for the first time in almost 5 years being weak or flimsy were washed away when one stared at the just concluded practice game at the Brian Lara Stadium in Trinidad.
Sri Lanka still strong despite mediocre West Indies record
In scoring a hefty and challenging 428 runs in Trinidad, powered by a scintillating ton by Dinesh Chandimal (108), and a fluent fifty by Kusal Perera, Sri Lanka issued an early warning to the West Indies bowling attack.
And purely on current form, given the habitual aspect of conceding too many extras, there’s reason to believe the likes of Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, Miguel Cummins- regardless of raw talent- will be under pressure. What doesn’t reflect well on West Indies’ perspective is Devendra Bishoo, struggling for wickets, seems akin to a farmer facing drought.
Against Sri Lanka, he’s managed 5 Test wickets from as many games and on his last international assignment, against Zimbabwe in an ODI, went wicketless.
Can spinner Devendra Bishoo spell a spin-web for Sri Lanka, maybe coach Stuart Law can answer better?
But there’s no dearth of quality, young all-rounders for Sri Lanka
What’s most emphatic and interesting at the same time about Sri Lanka’s forthcoming tour to the West Indies- 3 Tests- is that all-rounder Dhananjaya Di Silva, who was set to miss the series in the wake of a personal tragedy, is all set to join his squad.
This means, that purely on all-round talent, Sri Lanka now has 3 players, including the uncapped Test player Mahela Udawatte, preferred for briefer formats, the experienced Angelo Mathews and, now, Di Silva, over 1000 Test runs from 13 Tests.
While the batting department looks stable and will be eager to collect their maiden Test win in the Caribbean, the likes of Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal along with the two Kusal’s of Sri Lankan cricket- Mendis and Perera will have to come good.
Sharing 5 hundreds and 8 fifties between them, the duo of Mendis and Perera can inflict wounds from the top order. That said, there’s little doubt about the fluency of Niroshan Dickwella, arguably their most talented bat alongside Chandimal- 10 hundreds in Test cricket- who’ll be keen to brandish his record against the West Indies.
Sri Lanka’s bowling will be the key
The most potent strength of Sri Lanka, currently enduring a period of immense upheaval, following their one-sided domination at the hands of India, is the quality of bowling.
In Rangana Herath, an able statesman of the game and among the most respected figures of the sport, there’s an experience of 415 Test wickets. From this massive lot, only 23 have come against the West Indies. Herath might want to improve his best against Windies this season, currently, a 6-for.
Lakmal, who can move the ball in the air and deliver unscorable yorkers, already boasts of 102 wickets from 79 bowling innings. One can already foresee a lot of catches in the slips knowing the tendency of Windies batsmen to flirt with balls outside off.
But all that said, can Mathews and Chandimal, register big scores in the Caribbean, the duo only enjoying modest successes so far, even as Chandimal has struck a brilliant 151? The experienced former captain would want to improve on his highest score of 48 and he’ll want to make full use of 6 innings to do so.
How do the West Indies look?
Even as the West Indies enter their first home season of the year, at the back of their success in the World Cup qualifiers earlier this year, the pressure will be on Jason Holder’s men to put their A games out there.
The West Indies haven’t boasted of too many successes against Sri Lanka, in Tests, their last series being a whitewash in Sri Lanka, featuring an innings defeat.
Although, there’s been a lot of hue and cry about fluent batsman Darren Bravo not being around for this series, one reckons the lost chance to mount a comeback even as an armistice of a sort was reached between the Windies Cricket Board and the player, puts Bravo on the guilty line.
Cricket would’ve been a different sport had egos prevailed
But that said, how well can a usually reliant and stable Kraigg Brathwaite contribute from the top order, his record boasting of 6 hundreds and 16 fifties from 44 Tests.
If there’s an opportunity to cross 3000 runs, then the studious right-hander will envision it this series. Interestingly, it’s absolutely vital that along with Powell or Devon Smith, whichever batsman is chosen to play, the Barbadian scores from the top order.
Else, the West Indies do not always look comfortable when the middle-order is exposed early in an inning. That said, in Shai Hope and Roston Chase, easily two of the most sought-after batsmen, living well, so far, to their promise rests the mantle of the Caribbean batting.
Having hardly played any considerable size of cricket against Sri Lankans, both Barbadians would love to get on with the act and would be well-advised to handle Lakmal and Herath carefully.
This brings captain Jason Holder into the perspective
Even as a big blow of sorts was received at the hands of the selectors, who chose to ignore Evin Lewis from what could’ve been his maiden Test series, there’ll be an impetus on Holder, the batsman to step in.
Considering the returning Devon Smith brings in the experience albeit also the vulnerability of having stayed away from the game for 3 years, it’s absolutely paramount that West Indies batting order got support from Holder, 2 hundreds, 6 fifties from 29 Tests.
Where bowling stands, there’s raw pace but is there direction?
At the completion of the cricket camp over a fortnight ago, coach Stuart Law, under whose aegis the side clinched successes like the T20 wins against India and the series win at Zimbabwe (2017 end), seemed confident about the bowlers.
A returning Shanon Gabriel will assume the new ball and will be keen to hit the deck hard, he’ll be conscious of not bowling too wide or too full, none of which earned him great results.
But there’s also hope that in Kemar Roach, who plays Sri Lanka in over 3 years, there’ll be a sizeable experience to shoulder the pace attack, that may not impress on wicket’s tally but rides home confidence given flair and firepower. With 147 wickets from 44 Tests, there’s a lot of faith in Roach to turn around a corner for his side in the series.
Above anything else, the West Indies would love to have their players chip in regularly, instead of a single-sided narrative being etched either by a solitary batsman’s heroics or in the light of a stand-out singular bowling performance.
Having seen Sri Lanka display an amateur brand of cricket in recent times, they will be wary of their weaknesses and will also consider the threat of the experienced campaigners- Herath, Chandimal and, Mathews. What’s slightly perplexing is evidencing the absence of Hope and Chase from the recent practice game.
Ultimately, as the classic rule dictates, whoever plays a session well and absorbs pressure may hold the edge in the end.
Expected West Indies starting XI
Kraigg Brathwaite, Devon Smith, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder, Devendra Bishoo, Kemar Roach, Miguel Cummins, Alzarri Joseph.
Expected Sri Lanka starting XI
Niroshan Dickwell, Kusal Perera,Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Roshen Silva, Dilruwana Perera, Rengana Herath, Akila Dhananjaya,Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Gamage
First Test begins live at the Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad, June 6, 2018.