That we have got to the eve of this first Test with no changes to the schedule is a small miracle. Sri Lanka-West Indies matches are prone to postponement and cancellation. Broadcasters feel the markets too small, and the time difference too great to sustain long-format cricket between these teams. They would rather see them play T20 cricket, or perhaps ODIs. But somehow, this time, the series appears as if it will be played as planned. It is not melodramatic to suggest that this could be the last ever three-Test encounter between these sides, because that way goes the cricket schedule.
Considering the Test series planned for 2013 was turned into an ODI tri-series, the last time West Indies and Sri Lanka met for Test cricket in the Caribbean was in 2008. Back then Ramnaresh Sarwan was still playing, Chaminda Vaas was a new-ball bowler, and Rangana Herath was just a… okay, he was already pretty old. Point is, things have changed. West Indies’ top order is more brittle now – Roston Chase sporting their best average, a tick over 38. Sri Lanka’s fast bowling stocks have been depleted – Lahiru Kumara, their second most-experienced seamer with only nine Tests to his name. Both teams also know what a struggle it can be to rebuild following great players’ exits.
It is difficult to pin down form going into this Test, because it has been so long since either team has played. West Indies’ most-recent Test was all the way back in the first half of December. Sri Lanka’s had wrapped up in early February. The one fact to recommend the visitors in this series is that Tests are probably their best format now, with a settled top order in place, and an effective spin-department led by Herath. In their last three series, all of which were overseas, Sri Lanka won against Pakistan, drew two matches against India, and beat Bangladesh – all of which are creditable achievements. West Indies, meanwhile, have won only one series in their last 11 – against Zimbabwe.
Sri Lanka, for all the greats that have played for them over the years, have never quite managed to win a series in the Caribbean. Strangely, although they had one of their worst years in 2017, they have arrived on the islands feeling as if they have a good chance on this attempt. But as England found out last year at Headingley, this West Indies side has the capacity to surprise.
Sri LankaWDDLD (completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies LLDWL
In the spotlight
Don’t say it too loudly, but there is a little of the regality of the old West Indian batsmen in 21-year-old Guyanese, Shimron Hetmyer. He hasn’t cracked the top level. Not even close. But there are glimpses of a wonderful player in his imperious pull shots, and his dismissive drives. In New Zealand last December, he had faced down one of the best attacks around and hit a sparkling 66 to light up the Basin Reserve. The issue for Hetmyer is that there is no consistency yet. His other scores in that series were 13, 28 and 15. Perhaps, against a weaker Sri Lanka pace attack, he can put a few more good performances together, and kick his career into a higher gear.
Dinesh Chandimal took over the captaincy at one of Sri Lanka’s lowest ebbs, and within a few series, he has begun to make something of this team. His own batting has been crucial to the cause. Once a producer of flashy fifties, he is now workman-like to a fault, batting slow, batting long, often bailing innings out, sometimes even grinding down the opposition bowlers for other batsmen to take advantage of their exhaustion. He has already overseen an important series victory over Pakistan, in the UAE, but the prospect of achieving a series win in West Indies – something no other Sri Lanka captain has done – may be special motivation.
The two fresh entrants into the squad, opener Devon Smith and wicketkeeper-batsman Jahmar Hamilton, may be left out of the playing XI. Devendra Bishoo is the only specialist spinner in the squad, so in Trinidad, he is likely to have a place in the XI.
West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Kieran Powell, 3 Shimron Hetmyer, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Shane Dowrich (wk), 7 Jason Holder (capt.), 8 Devendra Bishoo, 9 Miguel Cummins, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Dhananjaya de Silva, who delayed his departure to the West Indies because of the murder of his father, may have arrived too late to be available for the first Test. If he doesn’t take his spot at No. 3, Kusal Perera could be deployed there. Uncapped Mahela Udawatte might take the injured Dimuth Karunaratne’s place at the top of the order. Sri Lanka also have a difficult decision to make on which of their offspinners they should field. Akila Dananjaya is the more attacking option, but Dilruwan Perera’s batting may earn him the spot.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kusal Mendis, 2 Mahela Udawatte, 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Roshen Silva, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt.), 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Gamage
Pitch and conditions
The weather in Port-of-Spain is expected to be good for the majority of the game, with the temperature in the low 30C range. The pitch generally takes a bit of turn.
Stats and trivia
Chandimal has an average of 48.5 across his 10 Tests as captain, against an average of 42.33 when he is not leading.
Sri Lanka have played only six Tests in the West Indies in total, winning only one of those games, in 2008. All their series before this one were restricted to two Tests only.
West Indies, however, have won only two of their last 12 Tests at home.