Sri Lanka v West Indies, 2nd Test, Kandy July 21, 2005

Flu-ridden Sri Lanka looking to wrap up series

Jermaine Lawson's action will be under scrutiny if picked for the second Test © Getty Images

West Indies hardly needed any more distractions. A bitter player dispute with the West Indies cricket Board over personal sponsorships, a dispute that has created rancour between those now in the squad and those who refused to sign tour contracts, already provides a large enough distraction. But as they prepare for the second and crucial Test, a dark cloud hovers over their star bowler of the opening match.

Jermaine Lawson's 8 for 102 appeared to be a triumphant return to the Test arena after two years of controversy and injury. His express pace and hostility rocked the Sri Lankans in both innings at the Sinhalese Sports Club and created an opportunity for a famous victory. Ultimately, it was a chance squandered, as Sri Lanka's tail wagged stubbornly on the second afternoon, exposing the West Indies' inexperience, but Lawson had identified himself as a match-winner and in the present scenario, there are precious few of those.

West Indies players have rallied around Lawson, according to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, their captain and solitary batting pillar. They appear almost certain to pick him too, although he will face the world's scrutiny every time he runs into bowl. It will be a mountainous test of character for a 23-year-old man. Chanderpaul will ask him before the start to focus only on the game but conquering all the demons that must surely be running through his mind will be easier said than done.

West Indies' only hope is that his team-mates rally with deeds as well as kind words. His fellow fast bowlers, especially Tino Best and Daren Powell, need to raise their games and carry some of Lawson's burden. The batsman, pathetically weak in the second innings last weekend - five of the top six contributing just 11 runs - must quickly work out survival strategies against Sri Lanka's premier bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan.

The tourist's cause has not been helped by the unsettled weather in the hill country leading up to the game. The wet weather prevented the curator from producing proper practice nets and batting practice has been limited to a few minutes on the eve of the match. Fortunately, according to the locals, the weather is now set to clear after Thursday's Poya Day (Full Moon) holiday.

West Indies main selection quandary is whether to include Ryan Ramdass for his debut. The opener, who scored heavily in the A team series that preceded this tour, would probably have played in Colombo were it not for a shoulder injury but he has now been passed fit. Xavier Marshall, a double failure in the first Test, may be the player to make way should Ramdass get the nod, although he too impressed with the A team.

Sri Lanka's preparations have not been trouble-free either, and for the third consecutive training session, Muttiah Muralitharan was confined to his bed trying to shake off the flu. The other flu-ridden players - Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Chaminda Vaas and Sanath Jayasuriya (tonsilitis) - looked perkier than the previous day but hardly pictures of good health as they worked out gently in the morning.

All the players are set to play, according to Marvan Atapattu, and the only hope is that no -one else succumbs to a virus that started from the top, the manager and captain, before spreading like wildfire. Aside from the flu, all the niggles and minor injuries appear to be under control and Sri Lanka will be picking from a full squad.

Sri Lanka could make changes, and both the captain and coach hinted at this. "We will play the best team to win in the conditions," said Tom Moody, adding, "and the conditions appear to be different." Although there has been rain, the pitch is brown and grassless and expected to take turn. This means that Sri Lanka are likely to retain two spinners, with Upul Chandana possibly coming in for Rangana Herath. Nuwan Zoysa is also pushing hard for Gayan Wijekoon's place.

Considering that Sri Lanka have a 1-0 lead and struggled mainly with their batting in the first Test, an extra batsman, the in-form Russel Arnold, may be discussed at No 7 when the management meets in the evening. But this defensive move would leave them with just two quick bowlers, a gamble if the unsettled weather does not clear away with the full moon as anticipated.

Likely teams:

Sri Lanka 1 Marvan Atapattu, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Thilan Samaweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Chaminda Vaas, 8 Upul Chandana, 9 Nuwan Zoysa, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Lasith Malinga.

West Indies 1 Ryan Ramdass, 2 Sylvester Joseph, 3 Runako Morton, 4 Narsingh Deonarine, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Dwaine Smith, 7 Denesh Ramdin, 8 Omari Banks, 9 Tino Best, 10 Daren Powell, 11 Jermaine Lawson.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent