Sri Lanka's 2021 T20 World Cup campaign wasn't expected to be particularly eye-catching, but they gave a decent account of themselves on the back of Wanindu Hasaranga's all-round heroics. The end result was that Dasun Shanaka's men finished fourth in a challenging Group 1, incredibly ahead of the competition's most decorated team - West Indies.
The two countries now lock horns in the whites, with Sri Lanka hosting a two-Test series that will serve as a massive hurdle to cross for an inconsistent West Indies side. While the Windies will hope that a change in format brings about a change in their fortunes, Sri Lanka will look to build on their ever-increasing momentum and continue their decent home form in red-ball cricket.
Although the hosts might be without Hasaranga, who may not break into the red-ball playing XI immediately with only four wickets in the four Tests he has played, they will be confident of their chances against West Indies, who have never won a Test in Sri Lanka. With the inconsistent Kraigg Brathwaite at the helm of an inexperienced side, the visitors will have to dig deep if they are to rack up a few points in this cycle of the World Test Championship (WTC).
Galle will play host to the encounter, which will commence on Sunday, November 21.
Sri Lanka vs West Indies 1st Test: Trial by spin awaits Windies
West Indies' last tour of the subcontinent was encouraging. Playing Bangladesh in a two-Test series away from home, the Windies won the hard-fought matches by three wickets and 17 runs respectively. But since then, their Test form has tapered off.
In their six Tests since, all at home, West Indies have managed only one win. Two draws ensued against Sri Lanka in March, while South Africa hammered them in both matches in June. West Indies then clinched a thrilling victory against Pakistan in August in the first match of this WTC cycle, but the Men in Green roared back with a fairly comfortable win to even the scales.
West Indies' biggest concern is their batting department, which may not have enough solid players of spin to adjust to the conditions in Galle. Brathwaite, who must lead from the front with the bat, scored a heap of runs during the previous Test meeting against the two sides, but the Windies skipper has often been found wanting in the subcontinent.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka have arrived at a fairly settled lineup that features several returning stars including Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal. While the immensely talented Charith Asalanka might be in line to make his Test debut, it remains to be seen if Dimuth Karunaratne wants to unleash the exciting Hasaranga against a team he tormented in the T20 World Cup.
Karunaratne himself is in a rich vein of Test form. The pace attack is led by the aggressive Dushmantha Chameera and the experienced Suranga Lakmal, who walked away with the Player of the Series award against West Indies earlier this year.
While West Indies are a promising side with more than a couple of matchwinners, the trial by spin they are bound to face in Galle might cause their downfall. The visitors' spin attack doesn't inspire nearly as much confidence as Sri Lanka's, while the batting lineup too appears to be a bit thin. Anything can happen over five days of Test cricket, but the hosts should have the edge in the series.
Prediction: Sri Lanka to win the 1st Test against West Indies