A Test series between two teams Sri Lanka and West Indies devoid of superstars and both teams nearly at rock bottom in the ICC Test rankings will commence at the Galle International Stadium on Wednesday for the Sobers-Tissera trophy.
The two teams have a lot in common going into the two-Test series. They find themselves in a transitional stage with two young captains at the helm – Angelo Mathews for Sri Lanka aged 28 with an experience of 50 Test caps and, Jason Holder of West Indies aged 23 with only eight Test caps behind him and making his debut as Test captain.
Furthermore, the two sides also have an interim coach running their cricket. Sri Lanka has their head of coaching Jerome Jayaratne handling the team and West Indies have former all-rounder Eldine Baptiste drafted rather late into the position after regular head coach Phil Simmons had fallen foul of the West Indies Cricket Board for making adverse remarks on team selections to Sri Lanka.
On the rankings only eight points separate the two sides with Sri Lanka occupying seventh spot with 89 points and West Indies eighth with 81. Below them are Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Interim head coach Jayaratne said the team was well aware of the precarious position they are placed in the rankings and was confident they would put up a good performance to win the series.
“I would like to believe that we have a better chance of getting back to winning ways but I definitely won’t underestimate them,” Jayaratne said.
“We’ve done a bit of research on the West Indies and know our line of attack. They are an unknown quantity in the sense something of a mix with some known players like (Kemar) Roach, (Darren) Bravo and (Denesh) Ramdin coupled with a few new faces. They did well against England at home and had some decent performances.”
Jayaratne has the task of uplifting the standard of the team which has in recent times fallen way behind following successive defeats at the hands of New Zealand, Pakistan and India so that Sri Lanka has only two wins against six losses in their last eight Test matches.
“I spoke to all of them individually before they went to the nets. We got a good feedback. They were well disciplined and they accepted they had fallen behind in performance and had two bad series,” said Jayaratne.
“All are aware of what is expected of them. We had lengthy discussions and they are aware where we need to get to. Despite the rain which held us back for about a week we have made good progress,” he said.
“We can do all the preparations but its upto the boys to go out there and execute it, that’s the final nail on the head. I feel they are a bit upto it this time. They’ve worked very hard and I feel they will put on a very good show. If we can have a couple of good days early in the series the confidence will start to come back.”
For a team to perform well the dressing room has to be a happy environment. In this aspect Jayaratne said, “We have conveyed the message that we should be happy and conducive and everybody should be accepted. If anybody is having an issue they should keep me at least confidentially informed. I like the way things have progressed.”
Batting and fielding are two areas that led to the downfall of the team against Pakistan and India.
In the absence of a batting coach – a role that was fulfilled by former head coach Marvan Atapattu, Jayaratne has undertaken that task.
On the fielding Jayaratne said, “There is a significant improvement but they won’t be at their very best because they have some more time to reach their individual goals set by the trainer. But they will put up a better show than in the last two series. We are progressing well with all the department heads doing their part it’s a matter of putting them all together.”
Jason Holder for all his inexperience is held in high esteem as a leader of men by former West Indies legends like Sir Vivian Richards and Brian Lara.
The tour of Sri Lanka is his first to the country like so many of his team mates and it gives him the opportunity to prove the type of leader everyone expect him to be. A great responsibility rests on his young shoulders for quite apart from captaining the team Holder has also turned out to be an all-rounder of merit. Having started off as a fast bowler Holder showed that he is no novice with the bat scoring a maiden hundred against England and following it up with a knock of 82 not out against Australia two months later.
Stand-in coach Eldine Baptiste has a very high opinion of Holder.
“We have a very young team and a young captain. In time to come Jason will be one of the world’s greatest all- rounders without doubt. He has got good leadership qualities and my job is to keep the team focussed for the Test matches,” said Baptiste, a right-arm fast bowler who played 10 Tests and 43 ODIs for West Indies in the eighties.
West Indies preparations for the tour were thrown into disarray by the suspension of Phil Simmons by the WICBC a few weeks before the team’s departure to Sri Lanka.
“No doubt Phil’s suspension is a bit of setback for us, but at this present stage, all we can do is focus on the cricket,” said Holder. “I just hope that the situation with him is solved quickly because we would love to have him back. He’s been a wonderful inspiration to our team thus far.”
The absence of such high profile players as Chris Gayle who made a triple Test hundred the last time West Indies were here in 2010 and Dwayne Bravo, a brilliant match-winning all-rounder for West Indies coupled with the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, two cricketing legends of Sri Lanka has taken much sheen out of the series with Sri Lanka Cricket facing a financial loss due to the poor response they have received from host broadcaster Ten Sports for the tour. SLC will receive Rs. 45 million for the tour as compared to Rs. 55 million and Rs. 300 million they made from the two previous tours by Pakistan and India respectively.