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.
#Collapzilla – Club team loses seven wickets for 1 run in 11 balls
One week, a team scores 481 runs in 50 overs. The next, another loses a match chasing 189 having been 186 for 3. Clearly, cricket doesn’t do middle ground.
Far removed from the pyrotechnics of Jason Roy and Alex Hales and Jos Buttler, there was a club game in the town of Peterborough in Northamptonshire and the local team was looking beat. After all, there were 11 balls left, only three runs to get and seven wickets in hand. That’s when it happened. #Collapzilla
The unravelling of High Wycombe began with fast bowler Keiron Jones picking up four wickets in four balls to start the penultimate over of the chase, and ending it as a maiden over. Imagine the odds. Experts suggest it is somewhere between finding an Oxford-educated unicorn and owning car keys that never get lost.
The final six balls were the responsibility of a 16-year old offspinner. According to the Peterborough Telegraph, Danyaal Malik was the sixth-choice bowler in an under-strength attack.
Nathan Hawkes took strike on 57. The first ball was reverse-swept for a single, but that was only the start of another collapse. The next four yielded three wickets and a remarkable victory. Peterborough won the entire tournament – the ECB National Club Championship – and emerged the best out of 13 teams.
Tennis deal puts Australia Tests back in HD
A looming broadcast conflict has been averted after the Seven and Nine networks agreed terms to allow the latter to air the 2019 Australian Open tennis – a year earlier than originally scheduled. This leaves Seven free to air Tests and Big Bash League matches in high definition on its main channel.
Cricket Australia’s AUD 1.18 billion television and digital rights deal with Fox Sports and Seven, announced in April, had meant that Seven held the rights for both cricket and tennis for the summer of 2018-19, with a contractual obligation to air the first Grand Slam of the year on the network’s primary channel.
However, after more than a month of negotiations, Seven has agreed to on-sell the final year of its tennis rights to Nine for AUD 48.5 million, meaning the Test matches against Sri Lanka and the BBL matches also scheduled to clash with the Australian Open will not have to compete for airtime with tennis on the same network. CA is understood to have been prepared to accept secondary billing in the first year of their six-year deal with Seven, which has unveiled Ricky Ponting, Damien Fleming and Michael Slater as commentators.
For the first time in the history of Australian cricket, two of three men’s formats – ODIs and Twenty20 internationals – will be hidden behind a paywall. Nine had effectively exited the contest for rights to cricket in Australia when it revealed a five-year, AUD 300 million deal with Tennis Australia to broadcast the Open and other lead-up tournaments.
Hugh Marks, the Nine chief executive, underlined the reasons for the network’s decision in confirming the deal to gain the tennis rights a year early. He had been seeking to reduce spending on sports rights, after the network parted with more than AUD 500 million for the rights to international cricket from 2013-18.
“There’s an air of excitement at Nine about being the new home of tennis, so to be able to start our new deal a year early brings us all much delight,” he said. “As I said back in March, the timing of tennis and the audience demographics it delivers are a perfect fit for Nine and its advertisers. We’re also mighty pleased to have been able to settle on a price for the additional year that is consistent with our original offer to Seven.”
CA on Monday announced it had secured another major sponsor in the form of the digital real estate seller Domain, which is majority-owned by Fairfax Media. The four-year deal makes for an intriguing mixture of partnerships given that Fox Sports, provider of the bulk of the broadcast rights money, is owned by Fairfax’s media rival News Corp.
The Domain deal, alongside that with Alinta Energy, will account for the prime presenting and advertising space at Australian cricket grounds over the summer. They were both signed in the wake of the financial firm Magellan’s withdrawal from a previous deal with CA as part of the fallout from the Newlands ball tampering scandal.
“Domain is delighted to begin a partnership with Cricket Australia. Our aligned audience strategies in mobile and content represent a unique opportunity for both brands,” Domain’s chief editorial and marketing officer Melina Cruickshank said. “We believe the ‘spirit of cricket’ is resilient and look forward to the growth opportunities this partnership will provide.”
A new executive is set to join CA in August, with the recruitment of Karina Keisler as executive general manager for public affairs, government relations and infrastructure. Keisler will replace Mark O’Neill, whose contract expired at the end of March. She had previously held roles with Telstra, Vodafone and most recently the NBN corporation, which has faced numerous battles over its rollout of the national broadband network.
Ashton Agar says Australia must be ‘at our absolute best’ to avert whitewash
Ashton Agar has said Australia have “no choice” other than to believe they can defeat England in the final ODI at Old Trafford. If England continue their domination of Australia it will be their first whitewash over the old enemy in any format.
But Agar insisted the Australia players weren’t feeling pressure to avoid the whitewash and instead were focusing on improving all facets of their game.
“It’s going to be tough,” Agar said. “But I absolutely believe we can beat them: we have no choice [but] to believe that we can beat them.
“But we need to play our very best cricket against a side that’s played really well four games in a row now. We have to bring our absolute best. We have plenty to gain out of tomorrow, plenty to gain, to just put things into practice and just let it all out there.”
Agar scored 40 and 46 in the first two ODIs and, while the bowling figures of some of his team-mates have suffered dreadfully at the hands of England’s brutal batting, Agar has been the pick of Australia’s attack during this series. He took 2 for 48 at Chester-le-Street and conceded 7 runs per over during England’s record innings of 481 at Trent Bridge. He believes that, while it has been a difficult series for AJ Tye and Jhye Richardson in particular, the experience could be positive in the long term.
“I guess Trent Bridge is one that would highlight that for some young bowlers, and we have a quite young bowling attack,” said Agar. “To feel what that’s like — JL [Justin Langer] referred to it as the ‘jungle’, that’s international cricket, playing against good players on good wickets and sometimes small grounds.
“That was pretty difficult. It’s good to experience that now and not in a World Cup, learn from that now and then know what to do when you face that situation again.”
“They definitely would have been hurt after Trent Bridge. Everyone was. That was pretty incredible, it was a world record and unfortunately we were on the receiving end of that. But we have to keep learning from those experiences and it’s good to experience that now and not in a World Cup. Learn now, improve now. We can move forward instantly.”
Langer, Australia’s coach, may decide to tinker with his line-up once more in an effort to find the best balance but, with England unlikely to change what is a red-hot top and middle order, Agar doesn’t expect any easing of pressure.
“England are a very good side, an experienced side and they gel really well,” Agar said. “They’ve got beautiful balance in their team and I think we are working towards that.
“Their confidence, their self-belief: they ooze it out there, no doubt. They are playing like a team where everyone knows their role and they back themselves and each other to just go and do it. They’ve set the benchmark.
“We are not where they are yet but I think tomorrow is just another opportunity to try to win and try and do really well. It’s the last game [of the series], you go 100% every game but I think it means more to us now to go as hard as we can and just leave nothing out there.”
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