Cricket is back in the Caribbean. The last time Sri Lanka visited was for a three-match Test series, which ended with both sides sharing the spoils. The last time the West Indies hosted Sri Lanka for a bilateral limited-overs series was way back in 2008, while the most recent contest between the two sides was in Sri Lanka, almost exactly a year ago – a two-match T20I series, which West Indies swept comfortably. That was the last bit of cricket either of these sides played before Covid-19 brought a halt to pretty much everything.
Since then, Sri Lanka haven’t fared all that well in the limited cricket they’ve played. Test series defeats to England and South Africa, while not totally unexpected, nevertheless added a touch more doom to the gloom considering the nature of those losses.
Then there’s the small matter of Sri Lanka’s build-up to this series, which has been chaotic to put it mildly. With several senior players missing, either through injury or a lack of match-fitness following Covid-related time away from training, the number of available experienced campaigners in the squad can be counted on one hand. Their captain Dasun Shanaka, meanwhile, who was fortunate enough to avoid any of these issues, misses out because he couldn’t sort his visa out on time. And then there’s the issue of the team’s fast-bowling coach pulling out from the tour at the eleventh hour over a pay dispute – which the country’s sports minister has openly stated would impact the younger players on tour. And this is without even touching on the fact that Sri Lanka haven’t won a game of cricket in the past year.
While West Indies haven’t done all that much better in recent times, their recent Test series win in Bangladesh will see them come in as easily the more buoyant outfit – in fact, the many fresh faces in the Lankan line-up would do well in taking inspiration from their opponents’ highly improbable victory with a second-string outfit.
For both teams, though, with the 2021 T20 World Cup edging closer, the series will serve as much for building confidence as it will for working out their best combinations.
West Indies: LLWWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LLLLL
In the spotlight
Wanindu Hasaranga was undoubtedly the breakout star of the Lanka Premier League at the tail end of last year. While his effectiveness in the recently concluded Test series against England and South Africa showed his shortcomings in the longest format, his impact in the shorter variants cannot be understated. He topped the wicket charts with 17 at 1.29, while conceding less than a run a ball, and scored his 127 runs at a strike rate of 160.75. With his legspin and his hitting down the order, he has positioned himself as a genuine match-winner.
Chris Gayle is back in the West Indies’ T20 set-up after an absence of almost two years. In his two outings for the Quetta Gladiators in the PSL earlier this month, Gayle looked close to his devastating best. He has since spoken of his desire to help West Indies win another T20 World Cup, even if it means batting down the order. Even at the age of 41, a fit and motivated Gayle is a boon for almost any side.
While several big names have missed out from the squad, much of Sri Lanka’s team still picks itself – though it does mean coach Mickey Arthur has some options in terms of giving some of the young players game time. In the build up to the game he spoke of the pitch potentially aiding spin, and with that in mind, Ramesh Mendis with his flighted offbreaks and prowess with the bat could be a handy inclusion.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Danushka Gunathilaka, 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Thisara Perera, 7 Ramesh Mendis, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Nuwan Pradeep, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Akila Dananjaya.
Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell and Shimron Hetmyer – all three played a key role in West Indies’ T20I series win in Sri Lanka last year, and all three miss out having failed a fitness test. This has meant recalls for the likes of Fidel Edwards, Jason Holder, Dwayne Bravo and Gayle – all of whom bring experience in spades. With head coach Phil Simmons stating that rotation would be kept to a minimum with one eye on the World Cup, it’s also likely that spinners Akeal Hosein and Fabian Allen will see game time.
West Indies (possible): 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Rovman Powell, 7 Fabian Allen, 8 Jason Holder, 9 Dwayne Bravo, 10 Akeal Hosein, 11 Fidel Edwards.
Pitch and conditions
The Coolidge Cricket Ground in Antigua are known for its asymmetrical boundaries, which means bowlers from both sides will have to watch their lines particularly closely. The pitch itself is expected to take some turn, which will suit both sides in preparation for potentially similar surfaces at the T20 World Cup in India later this year.
Stats and trivia
- Chris Gayle last played a T20I in March 2019. West Indies have played 18 matches since then.
- Sri Lanka won six of their first seven T20Is against West Indies (losing only the 2012 World T20 final during this run). They have lost each of the last four meetings since.
- Sri Lanka have not won a match in a year. They have lost six games in that time: four Tests (two each to South Africa and England), and the two T20Is against West Indies in March 2020.
- West Indies have won five and lost seven of their T20Is under Kieron Pollard.
“It is an opportunity for some young players to step up, now that we are short of our regular players. I can’t wait to see these young guys get out there and do the job, and show us what they’ve got. The team morale is excellent; the guys are just so good, they just get on and do the work.”
Sri Lanka head coach Mickey Arthur backs his young guard to put the chaotic series build-up behind them
“We see what Chris Gayle did in his last IPL stint. He shows that both with the bat and on the field, he looks fitter and feels better and he is still hitting the ball as we want to see him do it. We’ve seen Fidel in the last CPL and we have seen that he can still muster over 90mph with his searing yorkers. So it is great to have the two of them with us.”West Indies head coach Phil Simmons voices his support for the returning veterans