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NORTH SOUND, (Antigua and Barbuda): Sri Lankan cricket’s woes of the past 12 months could be extended for at least another fortnight unless the visitors can rise to the challenge of a buoyant West Indies team in the two-Test series starting on Sunday at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.

Swept 3-0 in the One-Day International contest after being edged 2-1 in the tour-opening T20 International duel, Dimuth Karunaratne’s team have offered litle by way of confidence-building performances in the lead-up to the encounters with a Caribbean squad brimming with confidence after their unexpected successes in a similar two-match series in Bangladesh last month.

Having replaced Jason Holder as full-time Test captain on the strength of his handling of the underdog West Indies for the Tests in Chattogram and Dhaka, Kraigg Brathwaite leads a home team strengthened by the return of the former skipper and experienced batsman Darren Bravo.

Both were among a dozen first-choice players who opted out of the Bangladesh captain due to Covid 19 concerns. In their absence, debutants Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner took their opportunities with both hands and are predictably retained for this first series of an extended season of international cricket in the West Indies.

South Africa, Australia and Pakistan are also scheduled to visit the region in the coming months.

West Indies’ main concern going into the first Test appears to be finding the ideal balance to the team as Holder’s return to duty as one of the premier all-rounders in the international game gives the selectors the option of playing an additional spinner depending on the condition of the pitch before the start of play on Sunday.

While the slow bowler-friendly conditions in Bangladesh made the deployment of off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall and left-arm orthodox Jomel Warrican in tandem almost inevitable, the situation is not so straightforward at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium where the home fast bowlers dominated Bangladesh and England in Test matches there in 2018 and 2019.

In he last Test played at the venue, also in 2019, it was the array of Indian pacers who ruthlessly exploited the helpful conditions at the expense of hapless home batsmen.

Sri Lanka’s lone success so far in this campaign - the second fixture of the T20I series - broke a losing streak going back to the home T20I contest with the same West Indian opponents in March of 2020, just before the global pandemic essentially shut down the international game for three months. However subsequent losses in the two white ball formats mean the sub-continental nation has lost 11 of their last 12 international matches.

That includes a run of four Test match defeats in a row, two each to South Africa and England. It hardly bodes well for the upcoming series, especially with the batsmen again struggling in the two-day warm-up match against a West Indies President’s XI.

Despite featuring nine batsmen in their line-up in the first innings they were still dismissed for 172.

Topscorer there was Oshada Fernando and while the relative newcomer will have the opportunity to show his worth across the two Tests, it will be captain Karunaratne, veteran opening partner Lahiru Thirimanne and former skipper Dinesh Chandimal who will be looked to as key providers of the solid foundation the Sri Lankans so desperately need in attempting to post formidable totals.

If nothing else, Chandimal will be seeking to avoid the controversy which surrounded him on Sri Lanka’s last tour to the Caribbean in 2018.

On that occasion, he was held responsible on behalf of his team for what the umpires determined to be illegal ball-tampering after the first day of the second Test of the three-match series in St Lucia.

Incensed by the officials’ ruling, the Sri Lankans refused to take the field on the second morning and amid fears that the match would have been forfeited in favour of the West Indies, they eventually continued with the match and then won the final Test in Barbados to leave the series level at 1-1.

A similar series result three years later, given all the challenges they have faced, including the early departure of former captain and senior all-rounder Angelo Mathews for personal reasons, will be an excellent effort.

Teams (probable):

West Indies - Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), John Campbell, Darren Bravo, Nkrumah Bonner, Kyle Mayers, Jermaine Blackwood, Joshua da Silva, Jason Holder, Kemar Roach, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shannon Gabriel.

Sri Lanka - Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Oshada Fernando, Pathum Nissanka, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Ramesh Mendis, Lasith Embuldeniya, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera.


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