West Indies look to open their Test account in Sri Lanka

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(CRICINFO) Chris Gayle made a triple-hundred in Galle, Brian Lara hit 351 runs in one match in Colombo, and 688 in that three-match series, but this has to be one of cricket’s more surprising facts: West Indies have never won a Test in Sri Lanka. Partly this is down to their not having played on the island in their roaring 1980s – Sri Lanka too weak to attract them then perhaps, and too volatile geopolitically to have had a consistent touring schedule anyway. But still, since 1993, these teams have met eleven times in Sri Lanka; they have drawn just four of those games – three on a severely rain-affected tour in late 2010.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like the West Indies team to improve that record, but it is clear this is an improving team. Their batting, for one, looks better than it did in 2016, when they last toured Sri Lanka. On their most-recent trip to South Asia, West Indies had pulled off a chase for the ages, debutant Kyle Mayers hitting 210 not out as West Indies hunted down 385 in Chattogram. They won the second Test, in Dhaka, too. In the next series, against Sri Lanka, in the Caribbean, they established substantial first-innings leads in both matches, even if they would eventually peter out to draws.

Sri Lanka aren’t quite ripe for the plucking; Tests are still probably their safest format. But there is a little instability around this outfit that could hypothetically make them vulnerable. This series sees the return of several senior players – including Angelo Mathews – who had felt slighted during the months-long contracts standoff the players were involved in, with the board. This is also Mickey Arthur’s final Test series as coach, and the likes of batting coach Grant Flower, and bowling coach Chaminda Vaas, aren’t guaranteed their positions into next year either.

As both matches are due to be played in Galle, spin is likeliest to decide the series. How will these flawed teams use it? How will they play it? On that front, Sri Lanka would seem to have a significant edge, particularly after West Indies’ tour match in Colombo was rained out.

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Kyle Mayers may have created more buzz this year, but West Indies’ most consistent batter, by a slim margin, has been their captain, Kraigg Brathwaite. In 2021, he has hit 556 runs at 34.75, and given most of his 16 innings have come against the brand new Dukes ball, these are laudable numbers. But does he struggle against spin bowling, on turning tracks? He had one outstanding tour of the UAE in 2016, but even with his 328 from that series, his numbers in Asia (average of 28.87), lags behind his career stats. If he can spend substantial time at the crease (in his trademark shades-and-helmet), West Indies will likely make a bigger impact than they did in 2016, when they lost 2-0.

66, 118, 244, 75 – so read Dimuth Karunaratne’s last four Test knocks. The problem is, the most recent of these came way back in May, so it’s not as if you can say he comes into the series in form. Rarely does a home Test series pass by without a serious contribution from him, however, and he is especially good at Galle, where he has produced exceptional innings on tough pitches. West Indies’ bowlers will be desperate to neutralise him early.

Dimuth Karunaratne has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent batter in recent Tests AFP/Getty Images

Pitch and conditions
The surface is likely to be spin-friendly, but with the amount of rain that’s been around in all parts of the country, the pitch is unlikely to start out very dry. Given the northeast monsoon is still in operation, expect frequent rain interruptions, particularly in the afternoons.

Team news
Sri Lanka had thought about giving Charith Asalanka a debut, but it appears that they will go in with a bowling-heavy side instead, fielding two legspinners – Lasith Embuldeniya and Praveen Jayawickrama, in addition to offspin-bowling allrounder Ramesh Mendis (Dhananjaya de Silva is also there to contribute with his offbreaks).

Dinesh Chandimal is likely to keep wickets, with Niroshan Dickwella suspended for a year over breaking Covid protocols in England.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt.), 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 7 Ramesh Mendis, 8 Suranga Lakmal, 9 Lasith Embuldeniya, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Praveen Jayawickrama.

Jeremy Solozano, the Trinidad opening batter, could also be in line for a debut, as Brathwaite’s opening partner. With Roston Chase capable of delivering half-decent offspin, West Indies will also have to decide which of their other spin options – offspinner Rahkeem Cornwall, or left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican – plays. They could field them both, but that would mean their only serious seam options are Kemar Roach and Jason Holder.

West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt.), 2 Jeremy Solozano, 3 Nkrumah Bonner, 4 Roston Chase, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Kyle Mayers, 7 Rahkeem Cornwall, 8 Jason Holder, 9 Joshua da Silva (wk), 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Jomel Warrican/Jayden Seales

Stats and rivia
This is West Indies’ second World Test Championship series in the new cycle. They had won one Test and lost one against Pakistan in August, giving them 12 points. For Sri Lanka, this is their first series in the new cycle.
Kraigg Brathwaite averages 25.75 in four innings in Sri Lanka – his third worst average in host countries, after India (where he averages 19.91), and Bangladesh (21.16).
Dimuth Karunaratne averages 51.36 in Galle, and averages 47.52 as captain. His career average is 38.62.
Across conditions, West Indies have won just one of the seven most-recent Tests between these sides. Sri Lanka have won three of them.



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