West Indies to welcome Sri Lanka for a Test series for just the fourth time and the first in over a decade
What's the story
West Indies and Sri Lanka will soon commence on one of the rarest of international cricket assignments when the first match of a three-match Test series begins on Wednesday at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad. More than 36 years since being granted Test status, this is just Sri Lanka's fourth Test tour of the Caribbean and the first involving more than two matches.
In case you didn't know...
The first Lankan team to visit Windies were captained by Arjuna Ranatunga, and they played a two-match Test Series (which Windies won 1-0) and an ODI (also which Windies won), back in 1997. Their subsequent visit to Windies resulted in a 2-1 ODI series victory, but the hosts won the Test series 1-0 after one Test was drawn.
One year after Sri Lanka emerged finalists in a long-fought World Cup 2007 in the Carribean islands, they were back at the same venues in 2008, where they won their first test match at Windies' soil. The series was shared 1-1.
The heart of the matter
Sri Lanka is supposed to play Windies in three Test matches, slated to happen on 6th, 14th, and 23rd of June, respectively. The Lankans will be keen to extend the form of their last seven matches in which they were beaten just once - in an away game to top-ranked India, and enjoyed an historic 2-0 triumph over Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates while also prevailing at home over an improving Bangladesh side by the same margin in their last Test action in February. However, their preparations for this series have been hampered by unexpected setbacks involving key players.
Concerns also linger over a number of seniors in the squad who are being managed very carefully with a view to ensuring their readiness for the World Cup in England in 11 months' time. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, former captain Angelo Mathews fast-medium bowler Suranga Lakmal and captain Dinesh Chandimal - are expected to play key roles in the quest for a first Test series triumph in the West Indies although Sri Lanka's selectors have already indicated that concerns over their long-term fitness are likely to result in their being rested for at least one of the three matches, them being the seniormost in the squad..
Opener Dimuth Karunaratne, and fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera and Nuwan Pradeep are among the few sitting out due to injury. Emerging batting star Dhananjaya de Silva, who scored a memorable ton against India thereby delivering his team from the cusp of loss, was due in Trinidad on Monday having stayed back home because of the death of his father. It is unlikely that he will be considered for the first Test although he is expected to be back in the key number three position in the second Test in St Lucia and the final match in Barbados, which is incidentally the first-ever day/night Test to be played in the West Indies.
Meanwhile, despite a poor showing in their most recent Test series in New Zealand last December, the Windies selectors have retained the bulk of that squad. Devon Smith, the 36-year-old opening batsman, has been named in the 13-man squad on the strength of a prolific first-class season with the Windward Islands.
With the 2019 World Cup in sight, all teams are busy playing their cricketing seasons in an effort to consolidate themselves before the coveted event. While England hosts Pakistan and later Australia and then India, Zimbabwe will host Pakistan and Australia, and so on, Sri Lanka has planned out their season ahead as well, with South Africa and England touring them in July and November respectively, and with them touring Australia in January. The Test tour to West Indies is like a first step at the start of what would be an engrossing season for the team.
The Queen's Park Oval pitch which has acquired an unfortunate reputation for a highly unnatural surface encouraging neither fast bowlers nor attacking batsmen is likely to result in the teams battling it out more against themselves than against their opponents, in games that will examine both the stamina and concentration of both sides.