In keeping with the trend of recent years, West Indies finished the Caribbean season on a high note. Though the three-match limited-overs series ended in defeat, and the First Test was a soggy draw, the decisive Second Test was won in emphatic style. However, local celebrations were tempered by the painful memory of the past three seasons, when bright performances in the final home Test had been followed by gloomy, even disastrous, foreign campaigns.
The turnover of players during a protracted season was rapid, with 20 tried altogether, but Brian Lara's insistence on injecting more young talent eventually paid off. The most significant and encouraging improvement was in fast bowling: from a cupboard generally regarded as bare, inspired guesswork by Lara produced Fidel Edwards, a 21-year old fast-medium bowler who had missed the whole domestic season, first injured, then ignored by the Barbados selectors. On the evidence of a few net sessions, Edwards was selected for the Second Test in Jamaica - his second first-class match - and the gamble came off. His slingy pace won him five for 36 on the first day, the third-best debut figures by a West Indian. A second fast bowler, Jerome Taylor, a lithe Jamaican who turned 19 during the First Test in St Lucia, took fewer wickets, but was hailed as a special talent by Courtney Walsh.
The young prospects were joined by a rejuvenated face from the past. Four years after his only Test, Corey Collymore finally got another chance. Although he had lost much of his raw speed after a series of back injuries, he made a mockery of his tag as a one-day specialist, and his 14 wickets included a devastating seven for 57 in the second innings at Sabina Park, which set up the series win.
Lara made sure the victory was achieved in style, with a belligerent and unbeaten 80, to add to a double-century - his fifth in Tests - in the first game. It marked the rekindling of a love affair with Sri Lanka's bowlers. He now averaged 123.37 in his last five Tests against them, and although he never completely dominated Muttiah Muralitharan, his positive attitude made sure the opposition were never allowed to feel comfortable. Clearly enjoying his second stint as captain, he revelled in the status of idol and father figure.
Sri Lanka were too easily cowed by the aggression of confident opponents. Several players who regularly shine in the comfort of home conditions were virtually anonymous, not least the Test captain, Hashan Tillekeratne, who scored only 33 Test runs and was indecision personified in the field, with last-minute switches of bowlers and frequent confabs.
Marvan Atapattu compiled a fluent hundred on the opening day of the series but, like his team-mates, seemed uneasy on a Sabina Park pitch encouraging the faster bowlers. Prabath Nissanka made the most of that assistance with five first-innings wickets, yet the unhealthy over-reliance on Muralitharan, and to a lesser extent on Chaminda Vaas, persisted. Lacking confidence and depth, the Sri Lankans were in the end dominated by a West Indies team toughened by the earlier visit of Australia and eager to show the benefits of that experience to an impatient public.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Shell Cricket Academy Invitation XI v Sri Lankans at St George's, Jun 4, 2003
Tour Match: West Indies Cricket Board President's XI v Sri Lankans at Kingstown, Jun 14-16, 2003