by Nirgunan Tiruchelvam
Sri Lanka’s encounter with the West Indies is that of a rejected lover. For years, Sri Lankan fans have venerated the West Indian legends ranging from Constantine to Lara. In the pre-test years, cameo appearances in Ceylon by the West Indies were an integral part of the folklore. Old-timers such as Berty Wijesinghe spoke in superlatives when describing the six that Sir Frank Worrell hit out of the Colombo Oval during his monumental 285 in 1951. When Sir Gary Sobers was coaxed into coaching Sri Lanka in the early days of test cricket, his arrival was treated as though it was the second arrival of the messiah.
Sadly, the West Indies has treated Sri Lanka with arrogant disdain. In the 26 years of Test cricket, Sri Lanka has played only four Tests in the West Indies. In the same period, New Zealand a team that has consistenty ranked below Sri Lanka in the ICC rankings has played eight tests there. The West Indies have lost five tests in a row in Sri Lanka and can hardly afford such condescension. To add insult to injury, the West Indian board even took the hostile step of withdrawing from the 1996 World Cup matches in Sri Lanka on flimsy security considerations, possibly to curry favour with the Australian board.
The two visits that Sri Lanka has made to the Caribbean have been low-key affairs, where Sri Lanka was treated shabbily and subjected to the misnomer of a two-Test series. On both occassions, Sri Lanka were the guinea pigs on debut venues? St. Vincent in 1997 and St. Lucia in 2003. Both these islands are specks in the Atlantic Ocean , with pathetic cricket facilities.
It is a travesty that the World Cup runner-up that has the world?s highest ranked batsman (Sangakkara) and bowler (Muralitharan) has been given just two tests. Perhaps, the attitute of the West Indian board stems from a post-colonial complex, where teams such as New Zealand , South Africa and England are higher in their pecking order.
The callous approach of the Windies board is in contrast to the popularity that the Sri Lankan team enjoys thoughout the islands. With the early exit of the home team in the 07 World Cup, Sri Lanka were without doubt the favored team. Apart from Jayasuriya’s cavalier hitting, Lasith Malinga’s freakish action and his unique feat of four wickets in four balls placed Sri Lanka on a pedestal in the Carribbean.
This series will take place with Sri Lanka struggling to shrug off the indignities of the Australian tour. Mahela Jayawardene, who presided over one of the country’s worst ODI forays in recent years, will be anxious to bury the past. The scoreline of 2 wins, 5 losses and an abandoned game does not do justice to the meek manner in which the batsmen performed. At times, the batting was a throwback to the country’s dark days as a minnow.
Sanath Jayasuriya, the patron saint of opening, failed repeatedly. The rest of the batting, except the ruling duo of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, was inept. The worst offender was Chamara Silva, a dynamic middle-order batsmen who starred in 2007 World Cup campaign. Silva failed to reach fifty in the tournament. While the bowling delivered, the fielding was timid and at times embarassing.
Murali looms Large
But the Test tour of West Indies is not only in another continent, but also the cricket will be far removed from ODIs in Australia. As is the custom, the exalted Muttiah Muralitharan will loom large over his opponents.With 70 wickets against the West Indies at an awesome average of 17 a piece, the home side will fear Murali. They will face him without his nemesis Brian Lara for the first time in the West Indies. Ominously, the matches will be played in Georgetown and Port-of-Spain, venues where test cricket’s highest wicket-taker had robust success in the World Cup.
Muralitharan will be touring the Windies as a geriatric in a youthful side. Mentally and tactically, he is as good a bowler as he has ever been. However, at almost 36 his shoulder is faltering. For the first time in his career, his famed accuracy seems to be deserting him when under pressure. This was apparent in the Australian test series, when he had meagre returns of 4 for 400. Nonetheless, the brittle West Indian batting should be wary of underestimating Murali. None of them have scored centuries against him. Murali will be heartened by the naming of left-armer Rangana Herath as his spin partner. The tiny Herath has a proud record of 555 first-class wickets, which places him head and shoulders above other Sri Lankan spin aspirants.
Injuries to Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando deprieves Sri Lanka of their fastest and most penetrative seamers. However, the reserve strength of Ishara Amerasinghe and Thilan Thurshara Mirando are more than capable of aiding Vaas. Both Amerasinghe and Mirando have a long record of success in domestic cricket and will be anxious to reverse frustration of being neglected.
Gayle’s Inept Leadership
Happily for Sri Lanka, captaincy is one of the many causes for turmoil in the host’s cricket. In the past few seasons, the West Indian administrators have conjured a merry-go-round of the captaincy between Chanderpaul, Sarwan, Gayle and Bravo. Gayle has been named as captain for this series, but he is as indisciplined a captain as he is an attacking batsmen. There are dark rumours of his unpopularity, which may worsen with reports that he will prefer to skip the Australian tour in favour of the IPL.
The feeble West Indian bowlers will find it hard to contain the Sangakkara-Jayawardene duo. The senior pair have outstanding shot selection and reserves of patience. Their form will determine the team’s fate. Above all, they should be aware that nothing short of a series win will erase the humiliation of a two test tour.
Courtesy: Dilmah Cricket Network
11 comments March 20th, 2008