Unsettled West Indies face tough task
Match FactsMonday, November 15
Start time 10.00 (04.30 GMT)
The Big PictureTwo teams in a transitional phase come face-to-face in Galle on Monday. West Indies are led by Darren Sammy, a man who till last month wasn't even sure of his place in the Test side. Two of their senior batsmen - Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo - have turned down central contracts in favour of keeping their options open for the lucre that comes with being Twenty20 freelancers. Another senior batsman, Ramnaresh Sarwan, wasn't even offered a contract, which caused more controversy, and is not part of the squad. In addition, they are without their two best fast bowlers - Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards - both of whom have long-term injuries.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have to come to terms with losing their greatest match-winner, Muttiah Muralitharan. No more can their captain toss the ball to Murali and expect the wickets to tumble. They are also pondering how best to use their limited-overs spearhead, Lasith Malinga, whose injury-prone body they are unwilling to subject to the rigours of Test cricket ahead of the World Cup. It leaves Kumar Sangakkara and the team management with the challenge of grooming a bowling combination that can regularly take 20 wickets in a Test.
The other similarity between the two teams is that neither of them have played much Test cricket in 2010, having had to make do with one three-Test home series each so far this year.
Sri Lanka will start the series as clear favourites. Their No. 3 ranking puts them four spots above the West Indies, and they have a decent home record to be proud of - losing only one series in more than six years. West Indies, in contrast, haven't won a series away from home - except against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - since early 1995. They have a dreadful record in Sri Lanka as well, losing all five Tests in their previous two series and drawing the lone match on their first visit back in 1993.
Form guide(most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LDWLL
West Indies: LDLLD
Watch out for...
Adrian Barath announced himself with a sparkling century on Test debut late last year, but injuries have hampered his progress since. He has played only one first-class match in 2010, and hasn't been in the best of form in the domestic season. This series, though, will provide another chance to see how his potentially exciting opening partnership with Gayle develops.
Thilan Samaraweera is unsure whether he'll find a place in the one-day outfit, but he is a dead-cert when it comes to Tests. Whether he's good enough to boast of a 50-plus average has been debated for long but Sri Lanka won't care as long as he keeps performing like he did in his previous Test - making a century in the first innings, and 83 in the second to lift his side from the depths of 87 for 7.
Sri Lanka's batting is pretty settled, with Nos 1 to 7 being guaranteed starters. The bowling isn't though, in the absence of Malinga and Murali. Suraj Randiv has been picked out by Sangakkara as Sri Lanka's main spinner, so he's likely to play but it remains to be seen who will partner him. The fast bowlers will have an additional responsibilty as Angelo Mathews won't be bowling his medium-pacers due to a thigh strain.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tharanga Paranavitana, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Thilan Samaraweera, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Chanaka Welegedera
West Indies are also missing key fast bowlers which leaves the young Kemar Roach as their pace spearhead. The pitch is expected to assist spinners, but will West Indies pick both Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford, or go with one spinner and expect Gayle to send down a few overs?
West Indies (probable) 1 Adrian Barath, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 4 Brendan Nash, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Darren Bravo, 7 Darren Sammy (capt), 8 Carlton Baugh (wk), 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Nelon Pascal, 11 Sulieman Benn
"Randiv has become the main spinner in the squad, while Herath is an experienced bowler who has done a great job for us. We expect Mendis to come back very strongly."
Sangakkara is happy with the strength of his spin department though Murali isn't in it anymore
"You saw Sri Lanka just won in Australia where they had never won (a one-day series). It's an opportunity for the guys to use this as a motivation and go out there and be competitive and consistent."
Sammy keeps his chin up ahead of a challenging series
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo