Confusion surrounds the fate of the five-match one-day series between Sri Lanka and West Indies, which is scheduled to begin in rain-hit Hambantota on Thursday, with reports today suggesting the two national boards were working on rescheduling the series for January. The confusion was heightened by the circulation of an "official statement" by Sri Lanka Cricket, which was later denied, and by the absence of any official confirmation or denial from the West Indian side.
Adding to the bizarre situation was Chris Gayle's Twitter update - the former West Indies captain tweeted as early as Wednesday afternoon that the series had been officially called off and that he was headed out of the country.
Hambantota, which also hosts the second ODI on Saturday, has been hit by torrential rain over the past few days, with players unable to have any outdoor practice. Given the likelihood of rain affecting both ODIs, it appears SLC had proposed a deferred three-match series starting at the end of January, and were awaiting an official response from their counterparts in the West Indies. The time difference - nine-and-a-half hours - was not helping matters.
Rain has been the only constant in this ill-timed tour, with the players spending most of the time during the three-Test series in dressing rooms. The weather-induced stalemate pushed Sri Lanka from third to fifth in the ICC Test rankings, and Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain, went on to describe the series as the worst of his life.
If the poor weather continues through the one-day leg, it could upset both sides' plans to finetune their preparations for the 2011 World Cup. Sri Lanka have rested Muttiah Muralitharan for their last assignment before the big event, and are looking to identify their best back-up spinner. Offspinner Suraj Randiv has been favoured in recent times, but Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis, both of whom are in the squad for this series, are also in the hunt. Having sat out the Test series, seamer Lasith Malinga will also look forward to hitting his straps ahead of the World Cup.
West Indies endured a forgettable time against South Africa in May-June, losing 5-0, and will be eager to turn a corner here. Their performance in the first Test in Galle, on the back of a tremendous triple-century from Gayle, hinted at the beginning of a resurgence, but the washouts in the next two Tests robbed them of the chance to build on the momentum. The Tests offered little insight into Darren Sammy's abilities as a captain, while his personal form was shoddy. He has plenty riding on this series, and will hope for enough action to assert his leadership on the group, and find some confidence with both bat and ball.
The series was meant to hand World Cup auditions for the new ground in Hambantota and the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo which is slated to host the last three matches. Little is known about the pitch at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, though a notoriously low-scoring A match in September had raised doubts about its nature, doubts that were shot down by curator Anurudda Polonowita and national selector Ranjit Fernando.
Another striking feature of the ground is the distance between the square and the boundary - estimated at 100 metres by Fernando. Given the conditions, one can expect a low-scoring tussle under the lights with the bowlers having a big say in the proceedings. If the rain stays away, that is.