West Indies seek home advantage in opener
Friday, June 28
Start time 0930 (1430 GMT, 2000 IST)
The Big Picture
Ideally, West Indies and Sri Lanka should have been playing a Test series at the moment, but economic forces have meant that not only have the Tests been scrapped, but a third participant - India - has joined to make it a tripartite ODI competition. It's not all gloom though. A triangular competition can produce more twists and turns than a monotonous five-match series and a closely-contested first match between these two contrasting teams could be the caffeine kick the fans in the subcontinent need to follow a series being played halfway across the planet.
For Sri Lanka, Tests or no Tests, it's a big tour. It's not often that they travel to the western edge of the cricketing world - this is only their sixth trip to the Caribbean, including the 2007 World Cup - and the last time they were here five years ago, they drew the Test series 1-1 but failed to win anything in the three-match ODI series. A team in transition, Sri Lanka have had mixed results this year under the new leadership of Angelo Mathews. The big positive came in Australia where they drew the five-match series, but they suffered a setback at home soon after, failing to win the ODI series against Bangladesh. They found their A-game during the Champions Trophy, making it to yet another semi-final of a big tournament, before bowing out to India.
That run in England was largely based on their senior players repeatedly leading the team to safety. What was keenly awaited, but never came in England, was an innings, a spell, or a moment of brilliance from the new generation of Sri Lankan cricketers. Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera, Shamida Eranga - the list is full of promise that is yet to show its worth. In this series, on the slow-low pitches of the Caribbean, against two tough opponents and away from the peering eyes of the media, they have a glorious opportunity to make some progress.
West Indies are a strong side in limited-overs, or so it seems because of the presence of a number of power-packed players. However, most of these players have earned their reputations playing in faraway lands for an assortment of teams. The truth is, West Indies, much like Sri Lanka's younger generation, has teased with sporadic flashes of brilliance for far too long. Yes, they won the T20 World Cup, but soon after they lost an ODI series in Bangladesh, before Australia blanked them in a five-match series.
They were at touching distance of a semi-final place in the Champions Trophy, but even there, they didn't impose themselves with either bat or ball. One silver lining for them is that they have tasted some success in home conditions. However, given the strength of the other two teams, West Indies won't mind considering themselves underdogs.
Form guide(Most recent first, last five completed matches)
West Indies TLWWW
Sri Lanka LWWLL
In the spotlight
Upul Tharanga was a regular in the side after making his debut in 2005, but lean returns in 2011-12 and the rise in the reputation of Perera, saw the latter edge Tharanga out for the home series against Bangladesh. A sparkling debut by Perera meant Tharanga was left waiting for an opening in the side, which has now come due to Tillakaratne Dilshan's injury. Tharanga can take encouragement from the fact that there are places in the batting order still up for grabs - Perera's form has disappeared too - and that there are at least four matches to make his case.
The appointment of Dwayne Bravo as the captain of the ODI side raised a few eyebrows around the world, but Bravo brushed doubts aside saying it was part of rotation policy. He promised proactive captaincy with 'strange' tactics before the start of the Champions Trophy, but the team missed out on a semi-final spot when Kieron Pollard lost his wicket off what proved to be the last ball of the innings. Bravo was at the non-striker's end then and walked off dejected. However, having spent some time in England as a leader, Bravo has a chance to establish his style of leadership in home conditions.
Mathews had said the injury to Dilshan would be an opportunity for others to step up and the most likely player to lend solidity at the top could be Tharanga. Although the pitches in the Caribbean are not going to be markedly different from the ones laid out in England this season, Sri Lanka could include either Sachithra Senanayake or Ajantha Mendis or both in their squad.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Lahiru Thirimanne, 8 Ajantha Mendis, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Nuwan Kulasekara, 11 Lasith Malinga
West Indies settled into a combination that worked for them in England after the suspension of Denesh Ramdin. Although Ramdin is available for selection, West Indies are unlikely to disturb that arrangement, which means that Darren Sammy is likely to remain in the team while Johnson Charles will keep wickets.
West Indies (probable): 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Johnson Charles (wk), 3 Devon Smith, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Darren Bravo, 6 Dwayne Bravo (capt), 7 Kieron Pollard, 8 Darren Sammy, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Tino Best/Kemar Roach, 11 Ravi Rampaul
Pitch and conditions
Wet weather is expected to further interfere with the cricket. However, the warmer temperatures and the subcontinent-like pitch conditions will suit Sri Lanka's game.
Stats and trivia
- Upul Tharanga is 46 runs short of completing 5000 runs in ODIs. He has scored 12 centuries and his average is marginally better than Mahela Jayawardene's.
- West Indies' head-to-head record against Sri Lanka at home stands at 4-4
- Only two batsmen - Brian Lara and Sanath Jayasuriya - have scored hundreds in Sri Lanka-West Indies matches in the West Indies.
"It's to put those little mistakes that we made in England away. We felt we had a good opportunity to win that tournament and we want to win this one and prove ourselves right."
Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, is hoping to set things right at home
"West Indies and India are two very good teams in the shorter format of the game and I think that we really need to play some good cricket to win against them."
Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka captain
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo