Sri Lanka had hoped this would be one of their easier away tours this year. West Indies’ home record was modest; Sri Lanka’s Test side was picking up some momentum. But the Test in Port-of-Spain wasn’t merely a defeat, it was a decimation. Twice West Indies’ quicks scythed through the visitors’ top order. Although Sri Lanka had fielded five frontline bowlers, they still could not capitalise on having the opposition 147 for 5 on the first day. On a batting track, only Kusal Mendis could muster a score of over 45 – and even that, only having given two clear-cut chances.
When these teams had last met, in Sri Lanka in 2015, West Indies had shown flashes of individual brilliance but had failed to come together as a team. In the first Test, they had no such problems. Commitment to the team cause was visible in the way Devendra Bishoo and Kemar Roach buckled down alongside Shane Dowrich, to haul West Indies to a formidable score. Even with the ball, there were unlikely contributors – Roston Chase running through Sri Lanka’s tail on the fifth day, after the quicks had knocked out the top order.
While the hosts surge, Sri Lanka have tactical questions to answer. Is the five-frontline bowler strategy worth persisting with, given Dilruwan Perera’s modest returns with the ball? Kusal Perera is likely to make way for Dhananjaya de Silva at the top of the innings, but can Sri Lanka accommodate Kusal lower down the order, now that Angelo Mathews has left the tour? And is the attack dynamic enough? Or does it require the insertion of Akila Dananjaya?
However Sri Lanka chooses to answer those questions, they will be in flux – Lahiru Gamage also having left the Caribbean, with a fractured finger.
West Indies are in the unusual position of having to follow up a supremely dominant performance. One fact that may give Sri Lanka some hope is that it has been almost four years, and 31 Tests, since West Indies won back-to-back matches.
Sri Lanka LWDDL (completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies WLLDW
In the spotlight
While the opposition struggles with balancing their XI, the man who ensures West Indies have no such issues is Jason Holder. He was part of his team’s the first-innings resistance with the bat in game one, before supporting the frontline bowlers through the remainder of the Test. That he is growing in confidence as a leader was evident from his first-innings declaration – pulling the batsmen out with the score at 414 for 8, in order to bowl at Sri Lanka late on the second day. His batting average is on a gentle forward march, but it is a breakdown of his bowling figures that provides the biggest surprise. In West Indies victories, Holder averages a staggering 17.69, compared to his average of over 50 in drawn and lost Tests. If Holder gets wickets, West Indies tend to be competitive.
It was a surprise that Lahiru Kumara took twice as many wickets as any other Sri Lanka bowler in Trinidad. Although he is still hugely indisciplined, the pace and bounce he generated made him effective on a largely unresponsive track. Kumara’s issue, though, has been consistency. He excites on occasion, but can just as easily go wicketless and leak a hundred runs in the next match. With Gamage out of the side, Sri Lanka are desperate for Kumara to provide the same intensity in St Lucia that he had shown in Trinidad.
Devon Smith’s comeback Test did not go well. But it is possible West Indies will give him another shot at the top of the order, which will, of course, keep Shimron Hetmyer out of the XI. If Hetmyer does play, he will probably bat at No. 3 and Powell will open the innings again. Elsewhere, West Indies are unlikely to make changes.
West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Devon Smith, 3 Kieran Powell, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Shane Dowrich (wk), 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Devendra Bishoo, 9 Miguel Cummins, 10 Kemar Roach, 10 Shannon Gabriel
If Dhananjaya de Silva plays, Sri Lanka not only gain a batsman averaging over 45 after 13 Tests (though his best performances have come in Asia), they also have a half-decent offspinner in the top six. Perhaps this will prompt them to return to a 7-4 combination, fielding an extra batsman in place of another bowler. Dilruwan Perera, the most orthodox of Sri Lanka’s spinners, also stands to lose his spot to Akila Dananjaya – a far less experienced but more aggressive option.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Kusal Mendis, 2 Mahela Udawatte, 3 Dhananjaya de Silva, 4 Roshen Silva, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 6 Kusal Perera, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Rangana Herath, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Akila Dananjaya, 11 Lahiru Kumara
Pitch and conditions
The weather is forecast to worsen in Gros Islet over the weekend, possibly causing interruptions.
Seam bowlers had done well in the most-recent Test played at this venue – the India-West Indies Test of 2016. Given the home quicks’ dominance in Trinidad, a lively pitch could be expected.
Stats and trivia
Rangana Herath is now on 418 Test wickets, making him the most-successful fingerspinner in Test history (Muttiah Muralitharan primarily used his wrist to impart spin, though he was an offspinner). Only Murali, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble sit ahead of him on the spinners’ list.
West Indies’ last back-to-back Test victories came against Bangladesh, at home, in September 2014.
Three of the five Tests played in Gros Islet have been draws, but the two most-recent matches have produced results. West Indies beat Bangladesh there in that 2014 series, then lost to India in 2016.
Brett Hutton helps put Northants in charge
Northamptonshire 4 for 1 trail Gloucestershire 125 (Hutton 4-65) by 121 runs
Brett Hutton played a starring role as Northamptonshire dominated Gloucestershire on the opening day at Bristol.
He claimed 4 for 65 as the hosts were shot out for 125 inside 55 overs on a day in which 35 overs were lost to bad light or rain.
Fellow new ball bowler Ben Sanderson weighed in with 2 for 16, while Nathan Buck took 3 for 32 to fully justify Alex Wakely’s decision to field on a green-tinged pitch beneath heavy cloud cover.
Eight of those dismissed were caught behind the wicket on a wretched day for batting as tail-enders David Payne and Craig Miles emerged as Gloucestershire’s highest scorers.
Pressed into service as a nightwatchman, Hutton fell lbw to Payne as Northants, required to negotiate two overs at the end of the day, reached the close on 4 for 1.
A model of consistency since joining Northants from Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire-born Hutton made the most of bowler-friendly conditions, extracting movement off the pitch to rip the heart out of Gloucestershire’s top and middle-order batting.
His initial intervention came in the second over of the day, left-handed opener Miles Hammond pushing tentatively at a ball outside off stump and edging behind to Adam Rossington without scoring to set the tone for what was to follow.
Hutton returned to the attack from the Ashley Down Road End after lunch, taking three wickets in 22 balls in a devastating burst which further reduced the hosts to 68 for 8. Having negotiated best part of two hours and 78 balls, obdurate Chris Dent finally surrendered his wicket for 15, edging a length ball from Hutton to third slip.
He then accounted for Ben Charlesworth and Ryan Higgins in rapid succession, having both caught behind, the latter via a top edge, to confirm East Midlands supremacy.
Fellow Yorkshireman Sanderson was also rewarded for bowling a consistent line and length, the 29-year-old taking two wickets to further erode the top order. James Bracey was squared up in offering a catch behind, while Benny Howell could only edge a late in-swinger to Richard Levi at third slip.
Ian Cockbain’s first Championship innings of the summer lasted just five balls, pinned lbw in the crease for a duck by Buck, while Levi again demonstrated safe hands when Ben Cotton located Jack Taylor’s outside edge as Gloucestershire limped to 57 for 5 at lunch.
Ball continued to beat bat with alarming regularity and Miles decided attack was the best form of defence, the Warwickshire-bound bowler helping himself to five boundaries in staging a valuable stand of 33 for the ninth wicket with Payne.
Buck wrapped up the innings, bowling Miles for 23 and then having last man Matt Taylor caught in the slips for nine, leaving Payne unbeaten on 23.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh look to avoid Dubai detour
Having already qualified for the Super Four stage, after knocking out Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will play the last league fixture in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. The incentive is that the winner will stay in Abu Dhabi while the losing team will have to move to Dubai in less than 12 hours to face the table-toppers from Group A the next day. Both teams will be wary of the oppressive heat in the UAE and will be hoping to avoid the Dubai detour.
Bangladesh have some injury issues, so resting Shakib Al Hasan (finger injury) and Mushfiqur Rahim (rib injury) would make sense. Similarly, it would make sense for captain Mashrafe Mortaza to rest on Thursday, instead of taking on the strain of potential back-to-back games for what is essentially a dead rubber. In that case, the likes of Abu Hider, Nazmul Islam and Ariful Haque will look to gain more exposure ahead of bigger challenges.
Afghanistan will focus on a familiar template: bat steadily for much of their 50 overs and look up to their seamers to provide support to their in-form spinners.
Rahmat Shah’s 72 off 90 balls against Sri Lanka in the previous match backed up a solid start from the openers and allowed the big-hitters to go after the bowlers in the end overs. Captain Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran, meanwhile, will look to make more substantial contributions with the bat, while Hashmatullah Shahidi, who made 37 against Sri Lanka, will hope to capitalise on such starts.
But the key will be the three spinners – Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Nabi. Bangladesh had a hard time against Rashid in the three T20Is in June this year. Can they find a way past him in the UAE?
It might be a dead rubber, but both teams will be keen to build momentum and confidence going in to the business end of the tournament.
Afghanistan: WWLWW (last five completed games, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Mohammad Mithun made a confident 63 against Sri Lanka and helped Mushfiqur push the total beyond 250. Mithun has plenty of domestic and A team experience, but can he be consistent in international cricket and secure his middle-order position?
Rahmat Shah, who top scored with 72 against Sri Lanka, has played the Dhaka Premier League, and will be a familiar opponent for most of the Bangladesh players.
If Afghanistan look to rotate their squad, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad and seamers Aftab Alam and Guladin Naib might get a break. Munir Ahmed Kakar, Samiullah Shenwari, Sayed Shirzad and Wafadar are options to replace them.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Ihsanullah, 3 Rahmat Shah, 4 Asghar Afghan (capt), 5 Hashmatullah Shahidi, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Najibullah Zadran, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Aftab Alam, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Nazmul Hossain Shanto could open for Bangladesh in place of the injured Tamim Iqbal while Mominul Haque, Abu Hider, Nazmul Islam and Ariful Haque could get some game-time in place of the seniors.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Liton Das 2 Nazmul Hossain Shanto, 3 Shakib Al Hasan, 4 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Mosaddek Hossain, 7 Mohammad Mithun, 8 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 9 Mehidy Hasan Miraz, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Pitch and conditions
Dew was either not present in Abu Dhabi, or had no effect judging from the evidence of Afghanistan spinners’ total dominance over Sri Lanka.
Stats and Trivia
Mashrafe Mortaza is four wickets away from becoming the first Bangladeshi bowler to 250 ODI wickets. Overall, he will be the 17th fast bowler to the milestone.
Bangladesh have won three out of the five ODIs against Afghanistan.
Rahmat Shah is one match away from 50 ODIs. He will become the sixth Afghanistan player to the landmark after Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Samiullah Shenwari, Dawlat Zadran and Asghar Afghan.
“It is great to get off to a good start but what’s more important is that middle period; if you lose wickets in that period, then it really does hurt.”
Bangladesh coach Steve Rhodes
Troublesome ankle could sideline Vernon Philander until November
Vernon Philander has begun bowling rehabilitation this week as he recovers from an ankle injury that could sideline him until at least November.
Philander has struggled with his ankle since twisting it against India in late 2015 and while the latest recurrence of the niggle will not affect his Test-playing ability, it may impact his chances of making a case for World Cup selection.
If fit, Philander would have been picked alongside Dale Steyn for the upcoming ODIs against Zimbabwe but he will miss out. Philander also cannot be considered for the white-ball trip to Australia in October-November but may have an opportunity to return during the T20 tournament that is due to be played from early November to mid-December. However, it’s likely Philander will only make a comeback on Boxing Day, when South Africa host Pakistan.
Philander last played for South Africa in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle in mid-July, where the injury flared up. He did not play the second Test in Colombo and has not played any county cricket or in any T20 leagues since as he concentrates on recovery. Surgery is an option, but that would require a longer recovery time and CSA’s medical team are opting for a more conservative approach.
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