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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.

Form guide

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.

Team news

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.



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Recent Match Report – Islamabad United vs Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, 11th Match

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Islamabad United 158 for 9 (Bell 54, Delport 29, Sameen Gul 3-29) beat Peshawar Zalmi 146 all out (Pollard 51, Sami 3-22, Musa 3-25) by 12 runs

How the game played out

As has been the case every year, Islamabad United started this season slowly, winning just one of three games. However, this season has begun to emulate the others just as closely as the tournament progresses, with the defending champions putting in a vastly improved performance, holding their nerve to seal a 12-run win. The game ended with their captain Mohammad Sami knocking off the final three Peshawar batsmen off successive balls, claiming his maiden PSL hat-trick and ensuring his side finished with a flourish.

All of their best efforts looked like they might be derailed during a brief four-over spell of monstrous hitting by Kieron Pollard. With 92 required off 39 balls and the match meandering to its inevitable conclusion, Pollard roused the dispirited ranks of Peshawar fans in Sharjah with a blistering 22-ball 51. But crucially, support from the other end was lacking, and once he holed out to deep cover, the valiant efforts of Darren Sammy and Wahab Riaz couldn’t quite make up for a first ten overs where their side had fallen well behind the pace.

They had been chasing 159, a total Islamabad were only able to put up thanks to Ian Bell, playing his first PSL match of the season. As much of the rest of the order fell away, he remained at the crease until the penultimate delivery, his 54 playing a large part in knitting the innings together, and ensuring Islamabad had just enough runs in the end.

Turning point

By 13 overs, Islamabad were shuffling along at 88 for three, not quite able to get in the big hits in the face of tight Peshawar bowling. But a loose over from Umaid Asif saw Cameron Delport smite a six back over the bowler and Bell a boundary, fetching 16. From there, Peshawar lost their discipline somewhat; it was the start of a spell in which Islamabad plundered 56 off five overs. It was ground ceded they wouldn’t be able to make up.

Star of the day

Mohammad Sami may have come away with a hat-trick, but his wickets had been set up by the efforts earlier on of Islamabad’s emerging player Mohammad Musa. Less than half Sami’s age at 18, the fresh faced Musa was entrusted with the third over, with Imam-ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal batting in the Powerplay. Pace, accuracy, composure and lethality combined, culminating in the wicket of Kamran Akmal – another man twice his age. He would add the wickets of Dawid Malan and Darren Sammy to a collection that may very soon begin to burgeon.

The big miss

At some point, you may risk blasphemy and begin to wonder about Darren Sammy’s role in the Peshawar line-up. He doesn’t bowl anymore, and for some reason, comes in to bat at number seven. He still strikes at over 150, so he might as well bat higher up, but today, the bigger issue was he failed to give his Caribbean teammate much support in terms of run rate reduction. He never could find the middle of the bat as Pollard, and later even Wahab Riaz, took on the senior role in the partnership. When Sammy did hole out, it was to a waist-high full shot he has buttered his bread with by smashing for six. It cost his side today, but as the tournament progresses, the specific role Sammy takes on may begin to come under wider scrutiny; there is no hiding place in this format.

Where the teams stand

The narrow defeat means Peshawar have split their four games, winning and losing two apiece. The same applies to Islamabad United, with the two sides placed third and fourth on the table respectively.



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‘Would personally hate to give them two points’ – Tendulkar

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What players, coaches and other voices from the cricket world have said about India potentially boycotting their World Cup meeting with Pakistan

Ravi Shastri, India head coach (to Times Now)

“It’s entirely left to the BCCI and the government. They know exactly what is happening and they will take a call. We will go by what they decide. If the government says it’s that sensitive you do not need to play the World Cup, I will go by my government.

Sarfaraz Ahmed, Pakistan captain (to cricketpakistan.com.pk)

“The India and Pakistan match should be played as per schedule as there are millions of people who want to watch this game. I just don’t think cricket should be targeted for political gains. It is disappointing to see cricket being targeted after the Pulwama incident. I don’t recall Pakistan ever mixing sports with politics.”

Sunil Gavaskar, former India captain (to India Today)

“Who wins in that case if India decide not to play against Pakistan in the World Cup? And I am not even looking ahead to semifinals and finals. Who wins? Pakistan wins. They get two points.

“India has every time so far beaten them in the World Cup, so we are actually conceding two points when we could, by beating Pakistan (in the group stage), actually make sure that they don’t qualify for the knockout. I know emotions are running high, but that needs to be looked at with a little more depth.

“They can try but it will not happen (ICC boycott of Pakistan). It will not happen because the other member countries have to accept that. I can’t see other member countries accepting that. So while India can certainly go ahead and try to do that, I don’t think it is likely to happen because the other countries might say “look, it is an internal issue between two countries so please don’t involve us.””

Sachin Tendulkar, former India captain (on Twitter)

“India has always come up trumps against Pakistan in the World Cup. Time to beat them once again. Would personally hate to give them two points and help them in the tournament. Having said that, for me India always comes first, so whatever my country decides, I will back that decision with all my heart.”

Yuzvendra Chahal, India legspinner (to ANI)

“It’s not in our hands. If BCCI says, we will play, if they say no then we won’t. I think it is high time we need to take firm action. I am not saying all people there (Pakistan) are at fault but those who are responsible should be acted against.”

Sourav Ganguly, former India captain (on India TV)

“This is a 10-team World Cup and every team plays every team and I feel if India doesn’t play a match in the World Cup, it won’t be an issue. ICC can’t go on with a World Cup without India and I feel it will be really difficult for ICC to go on with a World Cup without India. But, you also have to see if India have the power to stop ICC from doing such a thing.”

Harbhajan Singh, former India offspinner (to India Today)

“India should not play Pakistan in the World Cup. India are powerful enough to win the World Cup without having to play Pakistan. One mistake will not correct the other one. Since we played in 1999 does not mean we should go ahead and do it again. We need to stand with our government and our soldiers. This is the time to talk and have a discussion which is far, far bigger than the World Cup. World Cup is not everything. Our country comes first, our soldiers come first and our government comes first. Cricket is not our first priority, our priority is our nation.”

Javed Miandad, former Pakistan captain (to Dawn

“I felt bad after hearing about our pictures being removed from their (Indian) stadiums. Now this talk of boycotting the World Cup. I think India need to understand they can face consequences of such an action. I don’t understand the mindset. Do they really think they (India) can get away without playing the World Cup match?”





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Benkenstein unhappy with South Africa’s complacency

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South Africa were “complacent” heading into this Sri Lanka series. This is not the opinion of reporters, fans, or commentators, but that of the team’s own batting coach Dale Benkenstein, after he watched his team collapse to 128 all out on the second day in Port Elizabeth.

Right through the series, South Africa have been modest with the bat, recording a highest-score of 259 across four completed innings. No South Africa batsman has hit a hundred, and only Faf du Plessis, Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock have managed half-centuries.

“We came in a little bit complacent,” Benkenstain said. “We addressed that, but it’s still very important to have the right attitude coming into a series. We say all the right things, but when you go in thinking we’ll probably have enough to beat the Sri Lankan side, I think it’s a dangerous place to be. We had two days in between series. It’s a full-on summer so you don’t have time to prepare. You can’t change what is really inside you.”

Benkenstein praised the Sri Lanka attack, whom he said had bowled with skill, and whom South Africa have repeatedly said they have been surprised by. But although Benkenstein thought some of South Africa’s dismissals were the result of good opposition bowling, there were plenty that weren’t he said.

“We have not been at our best – after a pretty disappointing first game as well – against a side that we did not know a lot about. There wasn’t a lot of footage with which to analyse them. You have to give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers. They’ve shown good skill, but we’ve given them soft wickets at crucial times. I keep thinking that it will be sorted out in the next innings.

“We’ve been pretty strong mentally, we came up against some very good bowling attacks and we scored enough runs to win those series. So I can’t really put my finger on what’s gone wrong now, but it’s been a long, full-on summer and the guys are only human, there may be a slight lack of energy.”

On what will almost certainly be the final day of the series, on Saturday, South Africa are now in a position where they must take eight wickets (possibly only seven, if the injured Lasith Embuldeniya does not bat). They haver 137 runs to defend.

“The game is still on the line and if we can have a good hour first thing tomorrow morning (Saturday) then we could make it hard for them to get the runs. There’s a little bit still there in the pitch and we have good bowlers. Sri Lanka have fought hard and put us under pressure, but overall the cricket has not been good, especially the batting – from both teams.”



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