Sri Lanka had hoped this would be one of their easier away tours this year. West Indies’ home record was modest; Sri Lanka’s Test side was picking up some momentum. But the Test in Port-of-Spain wasn’t merely a defeat, it was a decimation. Twice West Indies’ quicks scythed through the visitors’ top order. Although Sri Lanka had fielded five frontline bowlers, they still could not capitalise on having the opposition 147 for 5 on the first day. On a batting track, only Kusal Mendis could muster a score of over 45 – and even that, only having given two clear-cut chances.
When these teams had last met, in Sri Lanka in 2015, West Indies had shown flashes of individual brilliance but had failed to come together as a team. In the first Test, they had no such problems. Commitment to the team cause was visible in the way Devendra Bishoo and Kemar Roach buckled down alongside Shane Dowrich, to haul West Indies to a formidable score. Even with the ball, there were unlikely contributors – Roston Chase running through Sri Lanka’s tail on the fifth day, after the quicks had knocked out the top order.
While the hosts surge, Sri Lanka have tactical questions to answer. Is the five-frontline bowler strategy worth persisting with, given Dilruwan Perera’s modest returns with the ball? Kusal Perera is likely to make way for Dhananjaya de Silva at the top of the innings, but can Sri Lanka accommodate Kusal lower down the order, now that Angelo Mathews has left the tour? And is the attack dynamic enough? Or does it require the insertion of Akila Dananjaya?
However Sri Lanka chooses to answer those questions, they will be in flux – Lahiru Gamage also having left the Caribbean, with a fractured finger.
West Indies are in the unusual position of having to follow up a supremely dominant performance. One fact that may give Sri Lanka some hope is that it has been almost four years, and 31 Tests, since West Indies won back-to-back matches.
Sri Lanka LWDDL (completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies WLLDW
In the spotlight
While the opposition struggles with balancing their XI, the man who ensures West Indies have no such issues is Jason Holder. He was part of his team’s the first-innings resistance with the bat in game one, before supporting the frontline bowlers through the remainder of the Test. That he is growing in confidence as a leader was evident from his first-innings declaration – pulling the batsmen out with the score at 414 for 8, in order to bowl at Sri Lanka late on the second day. His batting average is on a gentle forward march, but it is a breakdown of his bowling figures that provides the biggest surprise. In West Indies victories, Holder averages a staggering 17.69, compared to his average of over 50 in drawn and lost Tests. If Holder gets wickets, West Indies tend to be competitive.
It was a surprise that Lahiru Kumara took twice as many wickets as any other Sri Lanka bowler in Trinidad. Although he is still hugely indisciplined, the pace and bounce he generated made him effective on a largely unresponsive track. Kumara’s issue, though, has been consistency. He excites on occasion, but can just as easily go wicketless and leak a hundred runs in the next match. With Gamage out of the side, Sri Lanka are desperate for Kumara to provide the same intensity in St Lucia that he had shown in Trinidad.
Devon Smith’s comeback Test did not go well. But it is possible West Indies will give him another shot at the top of the order, which will, of course, keep Shimron Hetmyer out of the XI. If Hetmyer does play, he will probably bat at No. 3 and Powell will open the innings again. Elsewhere, West Indies are unlikely to make changes.
West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Devon Smith, 3 Kieran Powell, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Shane Dowrich (wk), 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Devendra Bishoo, 9 Miguel Cummins, 10 Kemar Roach, 10 Shannon Gabriel
If Dhananjaya de Silva plays, Sri Lanka not only gain a batsman averaging over 45 after 13 Tests (though his best performances have come in Asia), they also have a half-decent offspinner in the top six. Perhaps this will prompt them to return to a 7-4 combination, fielding an extra batsman in place of another bowler. Dilruwan Perera, the most orthodox of Sri Lanka’s spinners, also stands to lose his spot to Akila Dananjaya – a far less experienced but more aggressive option.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kusal Mendis, 2 Mahela Udawatte, 3 Dhananjaya de Silva, 4 Roshen Silva, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 6 Kusal Perera, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Akila Dananjaya, 11 Lahiru Kumara
Pitch and conditions
The weather is forecast to worsen in Gros Islet over the weekend, possibly causing interruptions.
Seam bowlers had done well in the most-recent Test played at this venue – the India-West Indies Test of 2016. Given the home quicks’ dominance in Trinidad, a lively pitch could be expected.
Stats and trivia
Rangana Herath is now on 418 Test wickets, making him the most-successful fingerspinner in Test history (Muttiah Muralitharan primarily used his wrist to impart spin, though he was an offspinner). Only Murali, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble sit ahead of him on the spinners’ list.
West Indies’ last back-to-back Test victories came against Bangladesh, at home, in September 2014.
Three of the five Tests played in Gros Islet have been draws, but the two most-recent matches have produced results. West Indies beat Bangladesh there in that 2014 series, then lost to India in 2016.