The West Indies have played Sri Lanka on only a few occasions. In most Test battles, the West Indies have met the wrong end of the stick. Consider the rather one-sided Test series in the island republic? The West Indies were hammered 2-0 in a series that also, true to the Caribbean side’s waning ways- included an innings defeat. This was in 2015. This was with batsmen like Darren Bravo- now, nearly a non-existential entity in the side. This was with batsmen like Shai Hope and Jermaine Blackwood, the latter who finds no place in the 3-match Test series starting June 6, 2018.
But thankfully, that was in the past. In the present moment, the past can only offer a chance of redemption, provided, the Jason Holder-led side wishes to truly improve its Test record, which nearly being the bottom-placed side doesn’t cut too inspiring a figure.
As the Sri Lankans ready to take on the Holder-led side, there’ll be a few thoughts in the West Indies team’s mind.
First among them, could actually be related to Rangana Herath. Even as the bowler behind 415 Test wickets has taken not even 30 Test wickets against the West Indies, Holder’s team would be wary of Herath’s dismissive powers with the spin. They would know that his 6-for, his personal best against them could very well be an 8-for or something along the lines in the event of their batsmen’s failings. The same Herath scripted an epic collapse for a team like Australia when the Kangaroos went to Sri Lanka. Ever since then, he’s been on a roll. Should Herath-juggernaut get rolling, it could cause a mighty upset to the hosts.
The West Indies would be wary of their own bowlers. If you were to consider their current form, then the likes of Shanon Gabriel and Devendra Bishoo, in particular, do not inspire much confidence. Often, the dainty Guyanese leg-spinner has failed to get going on home soil. Much of his last Caribbean summer was an experience in agony. The English batsmen, followed by Pakistani willowers created a great discomfort for the bowler through a near free-reign of scoring against Bishoo’s ineffective leg spinners. To add more to the bowlers’ worries, the form of Gabriel might be slightly rustic as he hasn’t played a lot of cricket of late. It would be slightly unwise to expect the burly Trinidadian to get going from the ball 1. Although, there’ll be a huge comfort in seeing Roach back into the attack, whose 147 Test wickets at an economical rate inspire much confidence.
Should the West Indies challenge the Sri Lankan batsmen, then Roach’s pace could be expected to blunt a few blades. In Alzarri Joseph, there’s a key exponent of good, sharp pace bowling and someone who loves to fire up the bouncers but does Joseph have the experience to curb free-scoring batsmen like Chandimal, Mathews and above all- Dickwella?
In batsmen like Niroshan Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka have capable batting talents that could go sublime in the wake of tawdry, hapless bowling, something the West Indies have so often produced in the past.
In all honesty, the current West Indian team would love to extract something special from noted batsmen- Roston Chase and Shai Hope- the Bajan duo holding the key to deliver the goods for a side that needs something special urgently. But that said, while there’s hardly a concern regarding the outstanding talent of Hope and Chase, both of whom were among runs during West Indies’ last testing and most dogged resistance against Pakistan at home, they’ve hardly played Sri Lanka. Interestingly, the Barbadian duo did not play the just-concluded practice game against the Sri Lankans, wherein the tourists struck 428.
Should that bother Jason Holder, who would love to contribute something meaty, something meaningful with the bat? And there’s no reason why Holder cannot produce something special to lift his side, of which he’s been a stoic figure of inspiration. In the recent ICC World Cup qualifiers contest, Holder collected a vital, unbeaten 99 giving the West Indies a winning edge over a dainty associate nation.
In so doing, he proved that he’s not just the medium pace bowler who happened to have become the captain of a side so desperate to revive itself, rather is also a batsman in disguise, who for reasons, knows to himself often fails to turn up with much-needed contributions. Even as Devon Smith returns to the longest format post a 3-year Test break, perhaps feeling lucky to have been elected to experience a second-wind, the West Indies would want him to fire. His support at the top of the order to Kraigg Brathwaite is going to essentially be the plank that would define West Indian batting to follow. Any exposure of the middle order to the likes of Suranga Lakmal, who again the Caribbean side haven’t got enough experience in battling could signal a mighty challenge, and who knows an irrecoverable position?
Over the years, the West Indies have often struggled to find a stable opening pair but in the silently-driven Barbadian, the side seems to have found a man ready to don the onerous challenge, a crucial part of which often becomes staying ‘relevant’ to a capricious cricket board. In the case of Kieran Powell, the other West Indies opening talent who’s hardly delivered satisfactorily upon his reorientation into the Caribbean side, the leftie, it is well-advised, should consider the series as a ‘make or break’. And, honestly, if he fails to fire, the West Indies might want to draft someone special and more suited for the role.
While key milestones will await the likes of Roach, who’ll be set to go past 150 Test victims and vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite, the side could well muster a truly heartening performance to prove to world cricket that their recent success in ICC World Cup qualifiers was no flash in the pan, as was their stubborn Test resistances forged against an England and Pakistan. For now, the only person that can inspire the West Indies to some bright turnouts staring the First Test at Trinidad, is the West Indies itself.