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Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - 2021-11-21

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Sri Lanka out to extend West Indies winless record here

SPORTS

By Champika Fernando

For West Indies, Sri Lanka is unclaimed territory. Ever since they first set foot in the island in 1993 for Test cricket, they have played 11 matches but not once broken the curse, not even when the great Brian Lara plundered 688 runs off three games in 2001 or when Chris Gayle lit up the Galle track with a marathon 333 in 2010. Sri Lanka have won seven games and drawn the rest. Such has been Sri Lanka’s dominance against the West Indians at home. With the first of the two-match Test series set to begin this morning at the spin-friendly Galle International Cricket Stadium, Kraigg Brathwaite's side will hope fortune favours them this time round. West Indies have done decently this year. They started with a dominating performance against Bangladesh in Bangladesh, beating them 2-0 and drew 0-0 against Sri Lanka the last time the two teams met each other. They were beaten soundly by South Africa who took the series 2-0, but played well to draw 1-1 with Pakistan in their first series of the new World Test Championships cycle. Brathwaite has been in good form, scoring 556 runs at 34.75 in 2021. So has as Kyle Mayers, who hit a debut 210 not out to lead them to win over Bangladesh. Out of the four series Sri Lanka played since December last year, they had just one win--that too against Bangladesh at home. Their series against South Africa saw Sri Lanka conceding both tests, followed by a 2- 0 thumping by the Englishmen in Galle. They drew the series in the Caribbeans against West Indies before winning the first Test against Bangladesh to win the two match series 1-0. On paper, Sri Lanka has the advantage given the home conditions but in reality their form is a major worry going into the opener. Sri Lanka last played a Test in May and had not played any red ball cricket even at domestic level for six months, which skipper Dimuth Karunaratne says is a ‘huge challenge for all his teammates’. But the return of several seniors, including Angelo Mathews, following the contract stand-off will strengthen the team as they look to gain points on the board in the World Test Championship. Each win carry 12 points. Karunaratne has been in cracking form in his last few innings, hitting scores of 66, 118, 244 and 75, but the left hander admitted he has little confidence going in, given his long break from cricket. Five days of training were all he and his charges had got. The hosts will bank on the opener to lay the foundation along with young Pathum Nissanka who made his Test debut against West Indies early this year, hitting his maiden hundred on debut. Mathews is probably the best batter in the side, maintaining a career average over 44, and his form will play a big role in Sri Lanka’s quest to win the series. In his last four innings at Galle, he scored a half-century and a century against England. Dinesh Chandimal will be the wicketkeeper in the side with Niroshan Dickwella serving a year-long ban on disciplinary ground. There were talks to strengthen the batting, handing Charith Asalanka a debut at his home ground, given the significant threat posed by the West Indian bowling attack that includes Rahkeem Cornwall, a stockily built off-spinner who generates a significant turn and a bounce. However, the skipper confirmed they will use a combination of six batters and five bowlers, retaining Lasith Embuldeniya in the playing XI, meaning Asalanka will have to wait to make his debut. With Karunaratne and Nissanka expected to open batting, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, and Dinesh Chandimal are six batters Sri Lanka hopes will put on a decent score. Left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrema, Lasith Embuldeniya and Ramesh Mendis are the three frontline spinners with Dhananjaya de Silva to assist as Sri Lanka look to make the best use of the slow turning conditions at the Galle track. Suranga Lakmal will spearhead the seam attack with Dushmantha Chameera getting the nod ahead of Lahiru Kumara for the opening Test. Interestingly, this will be Mickey Arthur's final Test series as coach and the players would want to give him a grand send-off by winning the series. He has accepted a county deal with Derbyshire after Sri Lanka Cricket did not show interest in extending his term.

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