Last time West Indies toured Sri Lanka for a two-match Test series in 2015, they were thoroughly outclassed across four innings. They were all out four times and were able to register just two fifty-plus scores. They had no answers to the likes of Ragana Herath, Dhammika Prasad, and Nuwan Pradeep who knew the conditions all too well and even rookie Milinda Siriwardana took on the Windies single-handedly in the second Test.
Despite their abundant talent, the Windies were struggling for leadership while many in the side were battling foreign conditions for the first time. Six years later, the script is flipped on Sri Lanka who have been acknowledged as a team in the ascendency in white-ball formats but are yet to find their footing in the Test whites. Only three from the 2015 home series – Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunaratne, and Dinesh Chandimal – survived, while the Windies have six players who were part of the 2-0 humbling.
Despite not having Niroshan Dickwella due to a year-long ban for disciplinary issues and white-ball captain Dasun Shanaka who is left out of the squad, Sri Lanka announced an extended 22-player squad which should facilitate them with a large pool of options for the two Tests.
Arthur's gems out to prove themselves
The series is going to be an emotional one for the hosts as head coach Mickey Arthur is set to bid adieu after the second Test in Galle. Even though the team has won just two and drawn four of their 13 Tests under Arthur, the Australian has been instrumental in unearthing talented players with his emphasis on youth.
Charith Asalanka, Sri Lanka’s top scorer in the T20 World Cup, has received his maiden Test call-up for the side and most likely find a slot in the middle order. Despite playing limited-overs cricket for an entire year, Asalanka is built for the longest form. The diminutive southpaw averages 52.2 from 61 First-Class innings where he scored 12 fifties and a hundred. The hosts are strong at the top with skipper Karunaratne, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, and Dhananjaya de Silva.
Another star of Arthur’s era has been Dushmantha Chameera, who has risen up the ranks thanks to his raw pace and swing, two things that are not synonymous with Sri Lankan cricket. After a struggling with injuries and form for three years, the 29-year old was excellent with the new ball in the two drawn Test in West Indies last year. Chameera has enjoyed a great 2021 with eight wickets from five innings, his best return since his debut in 2015 where he claimed 18 wickets from eight innings.
Aiding him will be Suranga Lakmal, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Lahiru Kumara, another pace merchant, alongside newcomer Chamika Gunasekara.
However, their spin department needs to step up in which has scalped only 41 wickets from a possible 80 at home this year and average a wicket every 37 balls. The return of Lakshan Sandakan is a good sign as he could work in tandem with Ramesh Mendis, Praveen Jayawickrama, and Lasith Embuldeniya.
Settled batting order and strong pace battery
For West Indies, the Test side has been upping their game in recent times under the leadership of Kraigg Brathwaite. Seniors players such as Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Jermaine Blackwood have made them a competitive unit while youngsters such as Jayden Seales and Joshua da Silva have shown promise for the future.
Brathwaite alongside his deputy Blackwood have the ability to grind opposition attacks into submission while the likes of Nkrumah Bonner and Roston Chase have proven themselves to be able middle-order batsmen.
However, Da Silva remains gel that keeps the middle and lower order together. The keeper-batter has been crucial to their maiden Test win in Bangladesh earlier this year, where he scored a brilliant 92 in the first Test while batting with Alzarri Joseph with whom he shared a century stand. He was once again vital in a thrilling one-wicket win over Pakistan in the first Test with a 52-ball 15 batting at No.9.
Windies pace battery received a boost with the return of Gabriel whom they missed in the 1-1 drawn series against Pakistan. He will be raring to spearhead the attack with Roach, who has been a dependable asset for West Indies over the past few years. The 36-year old has the knack of removing top-order batters with the new ball and has gone wicketless only twice in the last 14 innings. Teenager Seales is a prodigy with the old ball as he tormented Pakistan batters on his debut by reversing an 80-overs old ball.
However, it is a huge challenge for their spin department of Roston Chase, Veerasammy Perumaul, and Jomel Warrican. Warrican had a superb outing in the sub-continent against Bangladesh as he claimed 10 wickets from the two Tests and will be the key on the dusty pitches in Sri Lanka. The other two spinners are in a tough spot. Perumal is yet to play a Test since 2015 and has only claimed two wickets from two first-class matches this year, while Chase is yet to pick up a wicket after bowling 46 overs from five innings in 2021.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (C), Dhananjaya de Silva, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Charith Asalanka, Minod Bhanuka (WK), Lakshan Sandakan, Praveen Jayawickrama, Suranga Lakmal, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara.
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite (C), Nkrumah Bonner, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Jason Holder, Joshua Da Silva (WK), Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Veerasammy Permaul, Jayden Seales, Jomel Warrican.