Spin and history the focus in Guyana
Saturday March 22, 2008
Start time 1000 (local) 1400 (GMT)
The big picture
Sri Lanka have never won a Test in the West Indies. Their pre-series talk has centered around how they have started to win overseas and how this is a great opportunity to notch up a first victory in the Caribbean. The hosts' last Test series was another defeat in South Africa, after they won the first match of the contest emphatically, and they would be all too aware of their slipping reputation. (They have languished at No. 8 in the ICC Test rankings for long.) West Indies are captained by Chris Gayle, who has recovered from injuries sustained in South Africa, and welcome back Ramnaresh Sarwan, who warmed up for Sri Lanka with a big first-class hundred. Sarwan has also been named vice-captain of the side.
The strengths of the two sides lie in their middle orders. Gayle has scored just 112 runs in nine Test innings against Sri Lanka, including four ducks, a highest of 44, and an average of 12.44. The bulk of experience comes with the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Kumar Sangakkara - who is Sri Lanka's most successful Test batsman against West Indies, with 595 runs in seven Tests at an average of 59.50 - and Mahela Jayawardene. If either side wants to get on top, its imperative they get rid of these names early.
West Indies have a potent new-ball attack whereas Sri Lanka are reliant on the untiring Muttiah Muralitharan. Though Chaminda Vaas has dismissed Gayle six times in nine innings, the other pace options - Ishara Amerasinghe, Thilan Thushara, Nuwan Kulasekara and Chanaka Welegedara - have limited international experience. Sri Lanka's batsmen accustomed themselves to the surface well during their warm-up match against the Guyana Cricket Board President's XI but the host batsmen handled Muralitharan reasonably well too.
It would be tempting to say West Indies hold the edge with home advantage and all, but the stats indicate something else. Sri Lanka's two top bowlers have excellent records against West Indies: Muralitharan has taken 70 wickets from ten Tests at an average of 17.34, while Vaas has 43 from seven at an average of 15.72. A slow track awaits the two teams and it is expected to play similarly to the way the old Bourda Oval did, so Muralitharan will once again be licking his lips.
Form Guide - West Indies
Last five completed matches: LLWLL
Player to watch: Sarwan returned to the West Indies' squad for the first Test after recovering from a string of injuries that forced him home from last year's tour of England. His domestic form has been promising - his 150 helped Guyana beat Leewards Islands by an innings and 29 runs - and his career average against Sri Lanka (48.66 but no hundreds) makes for an interesting contest.
Form Guide - Sri Lanka
Last five completed matches: LLWDD
Player to watch: Malinda Warnapura scored 132 and 50 in the warm-up match against Guyana and is tipped to open the innings. His first strides into Test cricket - during the home series against Bangladesh in 2007 - were hardly auspicious, as he was dismissed off his first ball, but he returned admirably in his second Test, scoring 82. Plenty has been said about this young opener's talents and he has the chance to really impress.
West Indies have given no inclination as to whether one the two spinners, Sulieman Benn and Amit Jaggernauth, will make their debut. The new National Stadium at Providence, built for last year's ICC World Cup, played host to a tame draw between the Sri Lankans and the GCB XI and Gayle has described the surface as "a pretty flat track". Jaggernauth and Benn, with 30 and 22 Carib Beer Series wickets respectively this season, have been included as the main slow bowlers but Gayle himself is a handy customer with the ball and West Indies have the option of allrounder Ryan Hinds, who also bowls left-arm spin.
Sri Lanka, conversely, are expected to play Rangana Herath, the left-arm spinner who took 5 for 67 in the warm-up game, alongside Muralitharan. Amerasinghe seems the likely candidate to partner Vaas. Sri Lanka's line-up will, in all probability, mirror the one from the practice game. Warnapura enhanced his chances of opening in the first Test by adding a second-innings half-century to his first-innings 132 in Guyana.
West Indies (probable XI) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Devon Smith, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Ryan Hinds, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 9 Daren Powell, 10 Jerome Taylor, 11 Fidel Edwards.
Sri Lanka (probable XI) 1 Michael Vandort, 2 Malinda Warnapura, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Ishara Amerasinghe, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.
Pitch & conditions
The Providence Stadium in Guyana hasn't hosted a Test match yet, but all indications are that the pitch will be a docile one, with some help for the spinners later on. In the three-day tour game at the same venue, Rangana Herath, the Sri Lankan left-arm spinner, took 5 for 67 from 19 overs.
Weather: Saturday's predominant weather is forecast to be sunny intervals, with a high of 82°F.
"We've been playing good cricket. We started well in South Africa before injuries prevailed so hopefully we can get a good start here and capitalise on that."
Chris Gayle, West Indies captain
"I don't think it's such a huge advantage. I think everybody in world cricket can look at the statistics and work out who the main players are for Sri Lanka."
John Dyson, the current coach of West Indies who had worked with Sri Lanka earlier, plays down any talk of inside dope