Sri Lanka have broken their barren streak. They’d lost eight T20 internationals in a row – against, Australia, India and West Indies. Finally they seemed like a competent T20 team, and this was largely thanks to their spinners.
It may seem like this is obviously the way Sri Lanka were going to win, but it isn’t, really. Sri Lanka haven’t had a good limited-overs spin attack for years. While on Friday, Akila Dananjaya bowled nicely through the powerplay, Wanindu Hasaranga dominated the middle overs, and Lakshan Sandakan polished up the tail, it hasn’t been since Rangana Herath and Sachithra Senanayake bowled in tandem, midway through the last decade, that Sri Lanka have had potent slow bowlers. On Friday’s evidence, these three have potential. While Hasaranga is clearly the primary matchwinner among them, Dananjaya and Sandakan also have significant strengths – particularly the ability to bowl difficult overs.
West Indies won’t fret on the loss much, partly because there is so much quality in their lineup that it’s impossible to rule out a comeback in even the most dire situations. Who’s going to rule out Evin Lewis blasting his way to a match-winning score? Or Nicholas Pooran going off like a skyrocket? There’s Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons and Kieron Pollard to contend with as well, in addition to the lower-order talents of Dwayne Bravo and Fabian Allen.
This is not a team you can predict a lot about, apart from to say most are matchwinners, and will ruin oppositions at will. Sri Lanka were at very near their best on Friday. They’ll need to be at that level again on Sunday to take the series.
(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: : WLLLL
West Indies: LWWLL
In the spotlight
Have many bowlers had the kind of series Akila Dananjaya has had so far? He’s coming back from a long international hiatus because of his action, for a start. Then in the first match, he took a hat-trick and then ended up being pummeled for six sixes in an over by Kieron Pollard, to wind up with figures of 3 for 62 from his four overs. Kudos to the team management who not only played him again in the second match, but also tasked him with bowling powerplay overs, as the team banked on spin. In that game, he dismissed Lewis and finished with 1 or 13 from his four overs. Clearly, West Indies are planning to go after him. On Friday’s evidence, Dananjaya will come prepared.
If West Indies are impervious to analysis as a team, no player lives that out like Chris Gayle. So far in this series, he’s collected scores of 0 and 16, and yet, there is the sense that he could explode, and explode spectacularly. If he has a slow start, so what? But then he’s playing his first serious T20 international cricket in two years, this series, and it’s been at least three years since he last made a substantial contribution to West Indies in this format. Perhaps it is unthinkable that West Indies go to the T20 World Cup later this year without Chris Gayle, but in moving him to No. 3, West Indies have already put him on notice a little bit. After scores of 0 and 16 so far in the series, Gayle needs runs.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at Coolidge seems unlikely to change much – it’s been slowish for the first two matches, with moderate bounce. The weather forecast suggests another warm but dry evening is in store.
Sri Lanka are unlikely to change their winning, spin-heavy XI.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 DInesh Chandimal, 4 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 5 Ashen Bandara, 6 Thisara Perera, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Lakshan Sandakan
West Indies aren’t likely to make many changes either. Only, Pollard keeps moving himself up and down the order.
West Indies (possible) 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Jason Holder, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Fabian Allen, 9 Kevin Sinclair, 10 Obed McCoy, 11 Fidel Edwards
Stats and trivia
- Only twice in 13 bowling innings has Wanindu Hasaranga failed to take a wicket. And in both those innings – in Australia – he had not bowled his full quota of overs.
- Gayle has not crossed 50 in T20 internationals in five years – since March 2016. That innings, however, was 100 not out off 48 balls, against England in the most-recent T20 World Cup.
- Sri Lanka have not won a T20I series since October 2019, when they won 3-0 in Pakistan.
- West Indies won their last T20I series against Sri Lanka, around this time last year.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf