PORT OF SPAIN, West Indies: West Indies and Sri Lanka commence one of the most infrequent of international cricket assignments when the first match of a three-Test series begins on Wednesday (today) at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad.
More than 36 years since being granted Test status, this is just Sri Lanka’s fourth Test tour of the Caribbean and the first involving more than two matches. On their last campaign to the region ten years earlier, the team led by Mahela Jayawardene claimed their first Test victory in the West Indies in a shared rubber.
Sri Lanka will be keen to extend the form of their last seven matches in which they were beaten just once, away to top-ranked India, and enjoyed an historic 2-0 triumph over Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates while also prevailing at home over an improving Bangladesh side by the same margin in their last Test action in February.
However, their preparations for this series have been hampered by unexpected setbacks involving key players.Concerns also linger over a number of seniors in the squad who are being managed very carefully with a view to ensuring their readiness for the World Cup in England in 11 months’ time.
Opener Dimuth Karunaratne misses the tour because of injury, as do fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera and Nuwan Pradeep. Emerging batting star Dhananjaya de Silva arrived here on Monday after attending his father’s funeral who was shot dead the evening before the team was due to start the journey to the West Indies on May 25.
It is unlikely that he will be considered for the first Test although he is expected to be back in the key number three position come the second Test in St Lucia and the final match in Barbados, the first-ever day/night Test to be played in the West Indies.
Of the trio of senior statesmen in their side — left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, former captain Angelo Mathews and fast-medium bowler Suranga Lakmal — only Mathews featured in the lone warm-up match ahead of the Tests, a drawn three-day fixture against a Cricket West Indies President’s XI highlighted by captain Dinesh Chandimal’s assured hundred.
All three are expected to play key roles in the quest for a first Test series triumph in the West Indies although Sri Lanka’s selectors have already indicated that concerns over their long-term fitness are likely to result in their being rested for at least one of the three matches.
Despite a poor showing in their most recent Test series in New Zealand last December, the West Indies selectors have retained the bulk of that squad in the expectation of returning to the level of competitiveness they showed in earlier Test campaigns in 2017 against Pakistan, England and Zimbabwe.
Devon Smith, the 36-year-old opening batsman, has been named in the 13-man squad on the strength of a prolific first-class season with the Windward Islands. It remains to be seen if he can earn a spot in the final eleven.
A Queen’s Park Oval pitch which has acquired an unfortunate reputation for a turgid surface encouraging neither fast bowlers nor attacking batsmen is likely to result in the sort of dour battle of attrition which will examine both the stamina and concentration of both sides.