Forget the controversy for a moment. Forget the charges faced by the Sri Lanka leadership, forget the video clips, and the due process. From a purely cricket perspective, this series deserves a close finish. It hasn’t quite been an epic, but aspects of it have been a wonderful surprise.
How many series have two 145kph-plus quicks at the top of the series’ wicket-takers’ list? Shannon Gabriel and Lahiru Kumara have forced one opposition batsman to retire hurt apiece. The cricket has never been more interesting than when either man is hurling deliveries at ribs and throats. On this tour both players may have had breakthrough performances. For years West Indies and Sri Lanka have searched for quick strike bowlers worthy of the title.
At different times, both teams have made major gambles. Jason Holder declared at 414 for 8 on a Trinidad track that was not especially helpful to bowlers. In St. Lucia, Sri Lanka made four changes to their XI and might have won had rain and their own refusal to take the field on day three not sapped precious hours from the game. Various batsmen have shone at various points – Shane Dowrich, Kusal Mendis, Kraigg Brathwaite, Dinesh Chandimal, all playing different types of innings, all utterly committed to the team cause.
The teams now move to the first-ever day-night Test in the region, played at one of the Caribbean’s most iconic venues. West Indies have not won a day-night Test in two attempts, losing to Pakistan in Dubai and England at Edgbaston. Sri Lanka have won their only day-night Test so far, last year in the UAE. These are small sample sizes, but one phenomenon that has been observed across the nine day-night Tests played so far is that the evening session tends to be especially fruitful for fast bowlers. Given the prominence of quicks so far, that is a tantalising prospect.
Sri Lanka will quite likely miss the experience of Rangana Herath in this Test, however. He has been ruled out with a split webbing in his hand, sustained during fielding drills in the approach to this game.
Sri Lanka DLWDD (completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies DWLLD
In the spotlight
Almost every time Shannon Gabriel came to the bowling crease in the second Test, the game seemed to change. Sri Lanka batsmen who had been cruising, suddenly had the ball seeking out the edges and shoulders of their bats. They found themselves struggling to contend with Gabriel’s pace. More than anything, they had to contend with balls leaping menacingly at them, Dhananjaya de Silva copping a painful blow to the wrist in the second innnings. In the end, his 13 for 121 in St. Lucia were the best figures ever in the Caribbean. If Sri Lanka can tear themselves away from other distractions to plan for this Test, it is Gabriel who will come up most in team discussions.
The dropping of Kusal Mendis for the tour of India last year now seems like an outstanding call from the national selectors. Since he has returned, he has not only rediscovered limited-overs form, but has scored heavily in Tests as well. With 238 runs and an average of 59.50, he is the leading run-scorer in the series so far, and it was his second-innings 87 around which Sri Lanka built their first commendable batting effort on tour. His average took a bit of a beating in 2017, but it is on a forward march again, currently sitting at 39.00. Many feel he has the talent to be a 45-plus player.
West Indies may draft 20-year-old quick Keemo Paul into the XI in place of Miguel Cummins, who has gone wicketless in three of the four innings he has bowled in in the series. Apart from that change, they are likely to keep the same side. Holder said everyone was fit for the Test.
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 Keemo Paul, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel
With Chandimal out of the Test, it is difficult to predict the exact make-up of the Sri Lanka side. Suranga Lakmal is going to lead the, SLC confirmed on Saturday. Danushka Gunathilaka may replace the misfiring Kusal Perera at the top of the order, but it is possible that Perera merely moves down the order.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Mahela Udawatte, 3 Dhananjaya de Silva, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Roshen Silva, 6 Kusal Perera, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Suranga Lakmal (capt.), 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Lahiru Kumara
Pitch and conditions
The weather in Barbados is expected to be cloudy but dry for the majority of the Test. Pitches at the Kensington Oval have recently favoured seam bowlers.
Stats and trivia
Mendis’ scores in the series are 4, 102, 45 and 87. He averages 72.71 across four Tests this year.
Gabriel’s bowling average has also been on an improve since the start of 2017. In that period he has 51 wickets at an average of 23.49. His average before that period was 38.12.