Time for Chandika’s men to shine in the Caribbeans…..
They don’t play each other that often. In fact, they play each other far too less in this part of the World. There have been just six Tests between Sri Lanka and West Indies in West Indies in the history of cricket. That is far too less a number of matches between two full member countries in cricket.
Yet, in these times, it seems to make for a mouth-watering contest, which in retrospect might seem to be a tad insulting to a team like Sri Lanka. But truth be said, Sri Lanka are going down the West Indies route. In their last 15 Tests, they have won 5, which is actually a decent number but a deeper look shows that the only significant wins were the two against Pakistan in UAE.
Besides that, they have beat Bangladesh and Zimbabwe which hardly gives the aura of a promising Test side. The West Indies Test series starting on 6th June presents Sri Lanka a golden chance to re-group and get their priorities right in different departments.
The margins by which they have lost to major Test nations in recent months is mind-blowing. Four of their last seven Test losses have been by an innings, which shows just how poor they have been. It took West Indies little time to decline from a super powerhouse to a team of T20 mercenaries. Sri Lanka aren’t probably going down that route yet but the directions seem similar. Here we take into account their possible goals from the series, areas they might need to shore up and the right personnel to do it.
The crucial no.3 spot
The incumbent at the number 3 spot is Dhananjaya de Silva. He made two hundreds in his last four Test innings’ at the position but he would return just in time for the opening Test following the murder of his father back in Sri Lanka. He is unlikely to play the first Test which puts Sri Lanka’s goals for the series in splits.
If de Silva can’t make it, Dinesh Chandimal might have to move up to no.3 with Angelo Mathews or Roshen Silva coming in at no.5. That said, de Silva has been brilliant there and from a long-term point of view, Sri Lanka would want to persist with him at no.3 and try Chandimal at 4, Mathews at 5 and Roshen at 6.
This could open doors for someone like Niroshan Dickwella, an attacking batsman with a wide array of strokes, to play up the order. Dickwella furthered his cause with a fine e half-century in the warm-up game against West Indies XI the other day. Kusal Perera is likely to open with Kusal Mendis, who has had lots of success as an opener. Mahela Udawatte is another option available with Dimuth Karunaratne, the first choice opener, injured. They might want to test Dickwella at 3 before de Silva returns.
Since the retirement of Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka have made just three partnerships of 200 or more in Tests with one of them – a massive 308 against Bangladesh earlier this year – between Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis being their best. A feature of Sri Lanka’s Test history has been their ability to string together mammoth partnerships, right from Sanath Jayasuriya- Marvan Atapattu to Aravinda de Silva – Arjuna Ranatunga to Kumar Sangakkara – Mahela Jayawardena.
They need their batsmen to show better temperament, fight battles and stay at the wicket for long periods. The best way to do that is to play as much as possible. In a country where high scores aren’t the norm these days, the challenge gets tougher. But with players like Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews in there, they aren’t short of talent.
The Hathurusinga effect
Chandika Hathurusinga’s effect on the Sri Lankan side is evident for all to see. From a side lacking the confidence to even beat Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the young Sri Lankan side have developed wings in the past few months under the tactical nous of Hathurusinga.
Dinesh Chandimal, often written off as a skipper, seems a rejuvenated, proactive captain since Hathurusinga joined. “It was a hard time for the team and the Sri Lankan fans over the past two years, especially in the one-day format. But now, with the new coach, we’ve got some new strategies. We’ve got a lot of faith in him, and we’ve got some confidence. We’re not thinking about the result. We are always thinking about how to play good cricket when we’re in the middle. That’s the main change we have in the team,” Chandimal was heard saying before the tri-series finals.
The unity in the side is there for all to see during Hathurusinga’s short stint thus far. The youngsters, who appeared flummoxed against big teams, stepped up admirably in the past few months. Bowlers seem to be getting the right field, right balls and big wickets. Batsmen seem more assured and fielders and taking more catches. It might be too early to call renaissance but there certainly seems to be a wave of change.
Sharpening the bowling unit
Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera will once again be key figures for Sri Lanka this series given the kind of expected pitches in the country. But the Islanders have to ensure that they groom their quicker men for these conditions. Lahiru Kumara, Asitha Fernando, Kasun Rajitha and Lahiru Gamage are relatively newbies in the Test squad and if Suranga Lakmal isn’t fit for the first Test, Kumara and Gamage would likely start.
Kumara picked up three wickets in the warm-up game against West Indies XI and seems to have the pace and guile to test batsmen in these conditions. But he will need able back-up. Much depends on how Sri Lanka guide these young seamers in the near future.