New-look sides clash in middleweight fight

Visiting teams to Zimbabwe often use their time here as a looking glass into the future: which new combinations might be worth exploring? Who are the up-and-coming players? Who’s staking a claim for the next major tour? While West Indies’ circumstances might be a little more tempestuous, both they and Sri Lanka have picked forward-thinking squads for this series, and there is plenty to prove on both sides.

This is particularly true of the batsmen. Darren Bravo has been culled from West Indies’ squad for his outburst on Twitter, and they are also missing batsman Marlon Samuels, wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin and allrounder Kieron Pollard, depriving them of a combined 521 ODIs’ worth of experience. With 44 ODIs to his name Johnson Charles is, by some distance, West Indies’ most experienced batsman. Several somewhat unknown entities have a chance to stake a claim.

The same goes for Sri Lanka, who already have one eye on their tour of South Africa in the new year. Sri Lanka have captain Upul Tharanga’s 189-match ODI experience to call upon, with Kusal Perera’s international nous to back him up, but not an awful lot beyond that. Their relative familiarity with Zimbabwean conditions and the sparkling form of young batsman Dhananjaya de Silva may give them an advantage, but they will likely find themselves more tested by West Indies’ attack than by anything Zimbabwe have thrown at them in the last few weeks.

Sulieman Benn and Sunil Narine have their wiles, and Shannon Gabriel’s improved fitness and balanced action enhances his menace. Captain Jason Holder will be personally buoyed by his recent second innings five-for against Pakistan in Sharjah, but the Bravo imbroglio may dampen the momentum West Indies gained from their historic Test success over Pakistan.

Or it may not, given that in recent times West Indies have rarely seemed more than a tweet or two away from controversy, and weathering such storms is all in a day’s work for them. On the field, however, conditions are setting this match up as a middleweight fight that will favour the most sturdy batsmen and most incisive bowlers on either side.

Form Guide

Sri Lanka: WLLLW (Last five completed matches, most recent first)

West Indies: LLLLW

In the Spotlight

Kraigg Brathwaite‘s Herculean efforts in Sharjah helped secure West Indies’ five-wicket win there, but his one-day record remains rather more modest than his Test record. With no Samuels or Bravo to provide the ballast in West Indies’ top order, West Indies will be looking to Brathwaite to step up and glue the top order together.

Sri Lanka’s questions around their inexperienced middle order are yet to be answered, given the tiny target and limp bowling attack they faced on Monday. How they stand up to the greater challenge provided by West Indies may be crucial to their overall success.

Team News

Multiple changes to their squad will have shaken West Indies up somewhat, and despite their long-form success in the UAE, West Indies’ recent 3-0 defeat in the ODIs against Pakistan will be in the back of their minds. All the new names in their batting line-up have a chance to clean the slate, and there are several middle-order slots up for grabs and several all-round options.

West Indies (possible): 1 Johnson Charles, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Evin Lewis, 4 Jason Mohammed, 5 Shai Hope, 6 Shane Dowrich (wk), 7 Jonathan Carter, 8 Carlos Brathwaite, 9 Jason Holder (c), 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Shannon Gabriel

Shehan Jayasuriya came in for some tap from Peter Moor on Monday, but there is no urgent reason for Sri Lanka to tinker with their XI. When the tri-series moves to Bulawayo, they will have expanded opportunities to play their spinners, and there should be a similar make-up to their line-up against West Indies.

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dhananjaya de Silva, 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Upul Tharanga (c), 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Shehan Jayasuriya, 8 Sachith Pathirana, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Nuwan Pradeep

Pitch and conditions

Zimbabwe coach Heath Streak suggested it wasn’t so much the grass on the pitch as the clouds overhead that aided swing and seam on Monday, and both the pitch and weather conditions are expected to be very similar. Much of the day is expected to be cloudy and overcast, with occasional sunny spells, while there may well be thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Stats and trivia

  • In 54 ODIs between these countries, West Indies hold the advantage with 27 wins to Sri Lanka’s 24. Yet that is weighted somewhat by West Indies’ yesteryear prowess. Sri Lanka have won six of the last seven matches between the teams
  • Suranga Lakmal is Sri Lanka’s leading wicket-taker this year, with 11 scalps from eight matches at 26.72
  • West Indies last visited Zimbabwe in 2007-08, when they won a five-match series 3-1, with one game abandoned

Quotes

“We’ve been facing Carl Mumba who has been bowling very fast, so West Indies’ pace won’t be a problem, rather the ball seaming around will be the challenge for us.”

Sri Lanka batsman Dhananjaya de Silva feels movement, rather than pace, will be West Indies’ key weapon

“It’s obviously a big impact to lose senior guys with experience who bring pedigree to your side. It’s a situation where we have to cope with what we have, and gel together as quickly as possible.”
Jason Holder‘s West Indies side has been shorn of several experienced players ahead of this tri-series

(ESPNcricinfo)

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