Sri Lanka and the West Indies will look to offload past baggage and begin a new era with fresh young talent when a two-Test series starts in Galle on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka are rebuilding following the retirement of their batting greats, Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, within the space of a year.
The West Indies, already hit by the reluctance of senior pros like Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo to play Test cricket, faced further turmoil when coach Phil Simmons was stood down for the tour for speaking out against his board’s selection policies.
Former fast bowler and selector Eldine Baptiste, who will serve as interim coach for the tour, will try to ease newly-appointed Test captain Jason Holder into the role.
Holder, a 23-year-old all-rounder who has played just eight Tests, was a surprise choice to replace the seasoned Denesh Ramdin as captain.
“We have a very young team and a young captain,” Baptiste said. “My job is to keep the team focused for the Test matches.”
The West Indies are searching for their maiden Test win on Sri Lankan soil, where they have played nine matches since 1993 — losing five and drawing the other four.
Both teams will look to bounce back after a lacklustre year. The West Indians lost to South Africa and Australia, while the home series against England was drawn 1-1.
Angelo Mathews’ Sri Lanka crashed to a 2-0 series defeat in New Zealand and lost home series to Pakistan and India by identical 2-1 margins.
– New rival coaches –
Like their rivals, Sri Lanka too have an interim coach in Jerome Jayaratne, who was given charge of the team after Marvan Atapattu resigned in the wake of the defeat against India.
Jayaratne, who did not play international cricket but made his mark as head of the Sri Lankan board’s coaching department, has already described Mathews’ boys as the “worst fielding side in Asia”.
He refused to take victory for granted against the young touring side.
“I would like to believe that we have a better chance of getting back to winning ways, but I definitely won’t underestimate them,” he said.
Only two players from either side have played more than 50 Tests — Mathews and Rangana Herath for Sri Lanka and batsman Marlon Samuels and Ramdin for the West Indies.
Herath, the 37-year-old left-arm spinner, could prove to be the difference when the first Test starts at the picturesque Galle International Stadium, a venue that traditionally favours spin.
Herath took seven for 48 against India in August, helping Sri Lanka bounce back to win that Test by 63 runs.
In June Pakistani spin twins Yasir Shar and Zulfiqar Babar combined to grab 13 wickets between them as Sri Lanka suffered a 10-wicket defeat at the same venue.
In the absence of star spinner Sunil Narine, who was not picked for the Tests, the West Indies will rely on leg-break bowler Devendra Bishoo, who has claimed 50 wickets in 13 Tests so far.
Sri Lanka’s batting in the absence of Jayawardene and Sangakkara will revolve around skipper Mathews, who hit three centuries in the home Tests against Pakistan and India.
Sri Lanka (from) – Angelo Mathews (capt), Lahiru Thirmanne, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Dinesh Chandimal, Rangana Herath, Dhammika Prasad, Kusal Perera, Dushmantha Chameera, Nuwan Pradeep, Tharindu Kaushal, Suranga Lakmal, Dilruwan Perera, Milinda Siriwardena, Kusal Mendis.
West Indies (from) – Jason Holder (capt), Kraig Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Devendra Bishoo, Darren Bravo, Rajendra Chandrika, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shai Hope, Denesh Ramdin, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor, Jomel Warrican.