West Indies haven’t enjoyed a great run in T20Is since their victorious 2016 T20 World Cup (then known as the World T20) campaign. In fact, West Indies have played 46 matches since then and have won just 15 in the 20-over format. Despite this record, most observers will still consider them as one of the favourites heading into this year’s T20 World Cup. And the reason? You saw it at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
When the team from the Caribbean are at their best, there’s little that can be done to stop them. In the line-up that played in the first T20I against Sri Lanka, West Indies had batting up to number nine. After a quick start, they promoted Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard up the order to up the scoring rate, and the duo scored 69 runs between them from just 29 deliveries. This resulted in a top batsman like Shimron Hetmyer not even getting a chance to bat.
With the ball, Oshane Thomas was quite inconsistent with his line but when he got it right, the Sri Lankan batsmen had little answers. Thomas bowled three overs during the Powerplay and took five wickets – this, despite bowling as many as seven wides. Out of his five scalps, three came from short deliveries while one was from a back of a length delivery.
On the other hand, the Sri Lankan pacers relied on slower deliveries, even in the first six overs. During the Powerplay, the hosts bowled 18 deliveries which were less than 120 kmph while the visitors bowled just seven such balls. You wonder if Sri Lanka read the pitch incorrectly as they didn’t take a single wicket during the Powerplay while West Indies took five.
After an impressive 3-0 series win in Pakistan, Sri Lanka have now lost their last six completed T20Is which is far from ideal in a World Cup year. In these six matches, both the batting and the bowling units have disappointed for the Asian team.
Since the series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka have lost a wicket every 12.7 balls and for every 14.7 runs scored. In half of those six innings, they’ve been bowled out - something which should ideally be a rarity in T20Is. They have lost 2.5 wickets per innings during the first six overs in their last six innings, hence they probably need to be a little more cautious at the start and look to keep wickets in hand.
On the other hand, their bowlers have taken a wicket once every 36 deliveries over their last six matches. That amounts to just over three wickets per 20 overs which is a very low number. There is definitely a lot of room for improvement for the Sri Lankans on this count as well.
West Indies, meanwhile, look like a strong outfit once again with the likes of Russell and Dwayne Bravo returning to the team. Since the 2016 T20 World Cup, out of the 46 T20Is that the Windies have played, Russell has played in just seven while Bravo has now featured in four. And that in a way explains their poor record during this period.
Pollard, Russell, Bravo along with Fabian Allen and Rovman Powell add great balance to the West Indies XI with all capable of making handy contributions with both bat and ball. Such all-rounders were the cornerstone of their triumphant T20 World Cup squads in 2012 and 2016, and they look to be well covered on that front this time too.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of pitch is on offer in the second T20I in Pallekele. Surely, the home team will prefer a more spin-friendly wicket where Wanindu Hasaranga and Lakshan Sandakan can be at their best. The duo picked up a wicket each in the first T20I, but it was far from enough to restrict the West Indies’ scoring rate.
With this being a two-match series, this game is a must-win contest for Sri Lanka while West Indies will be looking for their first series win in T20Is since 2018.
Sri Lanka Squad: Lasith Malinga (c), Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Shehan Jayasuriya, Angelo Mathews, Dasun Shanaka, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Lahiru Kumara, Asitha Fernando
West Indies Squad: Kieron Pollard (c), Sunil Ambris, Darren Bravo, Brandon King, Rovman Powell, Fabian Allen, Roston Chase, Jason Holder, Keemo Paul, Nicholas Pooran, Shai Hope, Sheldon Cottrell, Alzarri Joseph, Romario Shepherd, Hayden Walsh