An opportunity to complete wins against all Test nations

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Brian Lara
Will he hold the key?

by Mahinda Wijesinghe
Though the ongoing Sharjah splash would now occupy the attention of cricket fans, it is the visit of the West Indians in a few weeks that will be the icing on the X’mas cake and add sparkle to the year-end festivities. What’s more is that Brian Lara is coming, now who wants Santa Claus?

This is the first occasion the two nations are clashing on a full-length tour and, so far, the West Indies remains the only Test-playing nation Sri Lankan has not beaten. Can the hosts fill that vacuum?

Not a ball was bowled on day four and five

Going down memory lane, the two nations have met each other on three occasions at Test level. The West Indies has the distinction of registering the single win in this series so far, at Antigua during the 1996-97 tour. The honour of playing the all-important first Test of this series was granted to Moratuwa, and the unsatisfactory conditions available for the draining, of rain-water available at this venue could be gauged by the following comment in the Wisden Almanack (1995):

"The first-ever Test between the two countries was wrecked by the weather. Only 11 1/2 hours’ play was possible and there would have been less had the teams not agreed to forego the rest day after the scheduled first day was lost. The irony was that not a drop of rain fell during the hours of play and yet a full six hours was possible only on the second day. Not a ball was bowled on days and five."

Kissing goes by favour in Sri Lanka

It was possible for only an innings by each side to be completed while Sri Lanka lost two early wickets in their second essay before the match was abandoned. In a low-scoring game the tourists led by a meagre 14 runs in the first innings. In what threatened to be a humdinger of a Test match had to be unfortunately called off because the conditions available for the contingency of bad weather was not suitably provided at the venue picked for this inaugural Test match. No wonder it is said that kissing goes by favour in Sri Lanka and knowing politicians is what matters.

Brave words by Arjuna Ranatunga

The next occasion the two nations met each other was in the West Indies for a series comprising of 2-Tests and one One-day International game, in 1996-97, after having won the World Cup. "We’ve proved ourselves in the One-day game" said skipper Arjuna Ranatunga on arrival "we now want to do that in the Tests". Brave words to utter especially in the West Indies’ own lair, especially when the opposition possessed a stable of pace bowlers of the calibre of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose. But, the Sri Lankans did themselves proud though conceding the series by the odd Test. As Craig Crozier reported in the Wisden Almanack:

"Sri Lanka’s first Test tour of the West Indies, 16 years after being granted full status provided a competitive min-series in which the home team took the honours but not all the plaudits... They held first-innings advantage in both Tests but could not find the knockout punch to finish off West Indies when they were down. Each time, the home bowlers clawed their team back into contention, setting up victory in St. John’s, and rescuing them from the brink at the picturesque Arnos Vale ground in St. Vincent, Test cricket’s 78th and newest venue, which witnessed a gripping but rain-spoiled draw."

Can Lara handle the responsibility?

Now the Sri Lankans are in with a good chance of evening things up. True, Brian Lara, though a question mark hung over his fitness until the eleventh hour, is in the side. Yet it must be remembered that a fully-fit Lara played in the three previous Test against Sri Lanka. Solid left-hand batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been ruled out due to injury thus weakening the batting of the tourists and adding more responsibility on to the mercurial Lara.

Suffering from Muralithanitis

Strangely the Sri Lankans, of late, have been releasing, if that be the word, a number of pacemen to the front-lines. Strangely because, by right and by all that is natural, Sri Lanka should be chockfull with spinners. Perhaps the Sri Lankan think-tank is suffering from Muralithanitis and cannot see anybody beyond the champion off-spinner. When O when will another spinner to support this man going to emerge? They will not drop from the sky, and from the current crop of spinners available I cannot see a long-term prospect either to support or act as a foil for Muralitharan. Of course Muralitharan is one of a kind, but surely in this blessed isle of ours where there are tens of thousands of kids wheeling away their wares at every conceivable level cannot a few spinners with potential to ply their trade at Test level, after suitable training and experience, be found? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

It would indeed be tragically funny, if after having blunted the pitches to thwart the visiting West Indian pace battery the Sri Lankans cannot field good enough spinners on spin-friendly tracks or if Lara and co. master Sri Lanka’s sole spinner.