COLOMBO: The West Indies will look to the legendary Garfield Sobers for inspiration as they bid for an unlikely series-saving victory when they take on fellow strugglers Sri Lanka in the second Test in Colombo on Thursday.
The tourists have yet to win a Test in Sri Lanka at 10 attempts and they suffered an innings defeat last weekend in the first Test in Galle where veteran spinner Rangana Herath took 10 wickets in the match.
The 79-year-old Sobers, widely regarded as the greatest allrounder ever to have played the game, is in Colombo to watch the second and final Test at the P Sara Oval alongside Sri Lanka’s Michael Tissera.
The two men were rival captains when the then Ceylon played the West Indies in an unofficial one-off Test at the same venue in 1967. Sobers was the star of the show, hitting a century in a rain-affected match.
Back then, the West Indies were on the cusp of a lengthy period of domination in international cricket while their hosts were still some years away from attaining Test status.
The West Indies however have not found Sri Lanka a happy hunting ground since they played their first official Test on the island in 1993.
Now the West Indies are only above Bangladesh in the league table of regular Test playing nations while Sri Lanka are one notch above them in seventh place.
Sri Lanka are going through a rebuilding phase after the recent retirements of star batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
But they were still far too strong for the visitors in Galle who were let down by sloppy fielding as well as a failure by most of their batsmen to build a big innings despite making starts.
While the West Indies are expected to be unchanged, skipper Jason Holder has acknowledged that his batsmen need to show more application.
“At this present time, we need to knock it down, we need to take it slower and slow down the game as much as possible — simplify it as much as possible, and make it easy for us,” said Holder, who is in his first series as captain.
“I have full confidence in the guys. I just told them: ‘Don’t get dejected, it’s not the end of the world. We have another Test match to make amends and come back stronger’. We will push for that one-all draw.”
Like Sobers, Holder hails from Barbados and is looking to put a smile on the face of a man whom he has described as “one of the greatest to play the game”.
In contrast, Holder’s opposite number Angelo Mathews is wary of dwelling on the past and has spent the build-up to the match speaking of his satisfaction at his team’s response to the recent retirements.
He was particularly delighted with the performances of Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne, who both scored big hundreds in Galle.
“We can’t keep talking of the past all the time,” he said.
“After Sangakkara and Mahela left the team, we needed those guys to stand up and take the responsibility. I’m glad that they did it.”
The main question for Sri Lanka’s selectors will be whether to keep faith with off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal who only took one wicket in Galle. The experienced Dilruwan Perera would be a like-for-like replacement
Batsman Lahiru Thirimanne is also vulnerable after a run of low scores, with the uncapped 20-year-old Kusal Mendis waiting in the wings.
Sri Lanka (from) – Angelo Mathews (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Dinesh Chandimal, Rangana Herath, Dhammika Prasad, Kusal Perera, Dushmantha Chameera, Nuwan Pradeep, Tharindu Kaushal, Suranga Lakmal, Dilruwan Perera, Milinda Siriwardena, Kusal Mendis.
West Indies (from) – Jason Holder (capt), Kraig Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Devendra Bishoo, Darren Bravo, Rajendra Chandrika, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shai Hope, Denesh Ramdin, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor, Jomel Warrican.