On the surface, Sri Lanka are favourites. They are one spot higher on the rankings (eighth to West Indies’ ninth), finished stronger in the World Cup last year – beating West Indies in a thriller. And they are, of course, at home. But the spirit of resurgence in the West Indies side is difficult to overlook. Late last year, they pushed India close, in India. More recently, they swept Ireland in a three-match series at home.
And yet, West Indies being West Indies, they are missing key players for strange reasons. Evin Lewis top-scored in that series against Ireland, but has been omitted from the squad to Sri Lanka because he “came up short in the fitness test”, according to CWI chief selector Roger Harper. Shimron Hetmyer, whose spectacular 139 off 106 balls propelled West Indies to their win over India in December is missing for the same reason.
In their two practice matches, however, the West Indies top order built up some decent form, and have not seemed to miss Hetmyer and Lewis terribly. Darren Bravo, who might not have got a place in the squad had either of those batsmen been picked, made an unbeaten 100 off 88 in the first game, before Roston Chase struck 136 off 113 in the more serious warm-up on Thursday.
Sri Lanka’s own top order appears reasonably secure, even without Danushka Gunathilaka, who is out with injury. But they will worry, as usual, about the inexperienced attack, that has been inconsistent since the retirement of Lasith Malinga. Legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga has shown glimpses of promise, but needs another good series to really nail his place down. Left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan, who has been around the team for years, has not quite made himself a feature in the XI either, though he has been improving steadily in the background.
West Indies WWWLL (completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LLWWW
In the spotlight
Nicholas Pooran didn’t have quite as good a series against Ireland as Lewis, but his 112 runs at an average of 56 put him on second at the table, and he has eased himself nicely into this tour with a 41 not out off 38 balls in the first practice match. Perhaps more importantly, Pooran will have good memories of playing Sri Lanka, with his best international innings coming against them during the World Cup – his 118 off 103 balls giving West Indies hope of chasing down a target of 339. He had a minor back complaint in the week leading up to this match, but should be at somewhere near full fitness for this match.
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur confirmed that Thisara Perera was likely to return to Sri Lanka’s ODI XI for this game, owing largely to his bowling, which they see as superior to that of Dasun Shanaka, his competition for the No. 7 spot. Thisara’s recent bowling returns, however, haven’t been encouraging. He has not taken a wicket in his five most-recent ODIs (though during that sequence, he has occasionally been economical, such as against India in the World Cup, where he conceded only 34 from his 10 overs). With Shanaka in good batting form in the ongoing first-class competition in Sri Lanka, Thisara needs to impose himself on this series to keep Shanaka out of the XI.
With Brandon King having had two modest outings in the practice games, West Indies may go with Sunil Ambris at the top of the order to partner Shai Hope. With Roston Chase’s fingerspin also available, they may feel they do not need more than one specialist spinner – left-arm spinner Fabian Allen, most likely.
West Indies (possible): 1 Sunil Ambris, 2 Shai Hope (wk), 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Roston Chase, 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Kieron Pollard (capt.), 7 Jason Holder, 8 Fabian Allen, 9 Keemo Paul, 10 Alzarri Joseph, 11 Sheldon Cottrell
Arthur confirmed that only 12 players are in contention for the first ODI. The only decision Sri Lanka have to make is whether to play Lahiru Kumara as a third specialist seamer, or whether to field wristspinners Lakshan Sandakan and Wanindu Hasaranga together. You suspect they will take the latter option.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt.), 2 Avishka Fernando, 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Isuru Udana, 10 Lakshan Sandakan, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Pitch and conditions
A decent one-day deck is expected at the SSC, where spin almost always plays a role. Although for once Sri Lanka are playing home matches in what is supposed to be the dry season, the arrival of international cricket has as usual brought with it the spectre of rain. There could be showers in the afternoon.
Stats and trivia
Although Thisara’s recent bowling performances have not been heartening, he did have an outstanding 2018, when he took 25 wickets at an average of 20.72.
If West Indies win the series, they move up to eighth on the rankings, pushing Sri Lanka down to ninth.
“The key around that No. 7 position – Dasun shades the batting without a doubt, and Thisara shades the bowling. If we go with the two spinners, we’re going to need a third seamer, so we will give Thisara a go tomorrow.”
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur
“The guys showed in India how we should play. They gave us that blueprint. We have that set, and it’s just a matter of ticking boxes.”
West Indies captain Kieron Pollard