Sri Lanka have been neither brilliant nor poor with the ball of late, but will need to step their game up
For the first time in 18 months, Test cricket returns to the Caribbean. Even aside from this whole pandemic thing, plenty has happened in the interim. Sri Lanka have switched coaches (as is annual tradition). Kyle Mayers has become a sensation on the back of his 210 in Bangladesh. And, most recently, Kraigg Brathwaite has replaced Jason Holder as West Indies Test captain.
Brathwaite’s rise to leadership, and the demotion for Holder that that move had to entail, has been among the less disruptive captaincy switches in recent years. No one was dropped from the team, nor maligned in the media.
West Indies’ chief selector Roger Harper has even come out and emphasised how big a role Holder continues to play for West Indies, while laying out why Brathwaite was given the captaincy: “Kraigg was able to motivate his players to play to a very high level and create the culture we are looking to establish where the team showed a collective determination to fight and a real hunger for success.” (These happen to be similar to the reasons why Dimuth Karunaratne – another un-flashy opener – was given the job for Sri Lanka.) Nevertheless, West Indies are tiptoeing into a new era. And although we sort of know what to expect from Brathwaite’s captaincy (he’s led the team in seven Tests already), he will be desperate for his first assignment as permanent leader to go well.
Sri Lanka’s concerns, meanwhile, are widespread. Their batting has been excellent in some innings, but terrible in others over the last four Tests since December. Their bowling has been a little more consistent, in that it has been neither awful nor awesome, but every time the quicks take the field, you worry for their wellbeing, so rampant have injuries been.
To some extent, it’s difficult to predict what to expect from this Sri Lanka team, aside from inconsistent performances. Partly this is because the team is in such flux (e.g. Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva coming into this team to boost the batting, but Angelo Mathews leaving the XI and weakening it). That this tour has been condensed for Covid reasons, giving Sri Lanka only a few days to prepare for the Tests following a hectic limited-overs schedule, also makes things trickier for the visitors.
(completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies: WWLLL
Sri Lanka: : LLLLD
In the spotlight
Although Kraigg Brathwaite‘s leadership has had plenty of positive attention since the 2-0 win over Bangladesh, analyses of his batting have not been quite so upbeat. He did hit a 76 and a 47 in that last series, but the general trend has been downwards. In 2020 he averaged 23.10, in 2019 he averaged 16.81, and in 2018 he averaged 24.43. On top of which his batting average as captain is 20.64, compared to 34.16 when he is not. The West Indies selectors said they hoped Holder would now have more time to hone his batting and bowling now that he’s been relieved of captaincy. They’ll hope Brathwaite breaks properly out of his rut as well.
Dushmantha Chameera made his Test debut in 2015. For reasons largely to do with injury, he’s played only nine Tests since. On this tour, he has been relied on heavily – to bowl fast and provide breakthroughs in the limited-overs legs, which happen to be his job description in the Tests as well, with the much slower Suranga Lakmal and Vishwa Fernando likely to make up the remainder of the pace attack. Chameera is not usually a merchant of swing of seam, but it is possible that the Dukes ball will envenom him. Either way, Sri Lanka probably need Chameera to be fit and efficient through the series if they want to stay competitive.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is expected to be seam-bowler friendly for the first day, before slowing down. The weather is expected to be largely good for the duration of the Tests, with temperatures in the mid 20s.
West Indies may leave out Jomel Warrican and have to pick between Darren Bravo and Nkrumah Bonner.
West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (c), 2 John Campbell, 3 Darren Bravo/Nkrumah Bonner, 4 Kyle Mayer, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Joshua da Silva (wk), 7 Jason Holder, 8 Rahkeem Cornwall, 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt.), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Pathum Nissanka, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Suranga Lakmal, 9 Lasith Embuldeniya, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Vishwa Fernando
Stats and trivia
- West Indies have won only two of the seven matches they’ve played under Brathwaite, though those are the two most recent games, in Bangladesh.
- Of the 20 Tests these teams have played, Sri Lanka has won nine and lost only four of them. All four losses and only two of those wins came in games in the Caribbean.
- Although Holder’s batting fared slightly worse when he was leader, he was a better bowler as captain, averaging 26.76 when he averaged 35.37 when not leading the side.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf