By Ravi Madholall
A legion of West Indies supporters certainly will have a greater sense of optimism their team should churn out fascinating performances in both T20 games as they set to confront Sri Lanka in the first one Wednesday in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Despite the fact West Indies could not have found a winning formula in the just concluded 50-over three-match series having been whitewashed, there are many reasons to be confident the Caribbean unit can be the victorious combination in this exciting version though.
They are the World T20 champions and that possession of the trophy should also give them a great degree of enthusiasm to come good against a team in a familiar conditions.
Since triumphing at the global event four years ago, West Indies performances have dropped significantly as they now sit at number 10 on the International Cricket Council T20 Rankings while Sri Lanka are slightly higher at number 8.
With the World Cup T20 tournament on the horizon, both teams no doubt will be looking to sharpen up things in every aspect of the game. Sri Lanka though might be a bit down as they still have to play a qualifier leg before making the final cut.
West Indies, with a plethora of their T20 ‘big-guns’ on show including the dynamic all-rounders Andre Russell and the equally talented Dwayne Bravo, they can bounce back with vengeance after those three thrilling defeats.
West Indies played hard cricket but Sri Lanka just fired in all cylinders to humiliate them in the limited-over version. Many would have hoped they could have continued their successful run in 2020 since they whipped less-fancied Ireland 3-0 in Caribbean earlier in the year.
But Sri Lanka, in those three encounters, bowled, batted and fielded with admirable discipline while hitting enormous sixes and beautiful fours during the matches.
West Indies found rhythm to some extent and was nice to see their reliable opener Shai Hope carved out a century (115) and prolonged his rich form with back-to-back half-centuries, albeit in losing efforts.
Even though unfit Evin Lewis is not selected for this series, the prolific left-hander will be missed, but the team is very potent in that area especially with the return of young batting sensation Shimron Hetmyer who was sidelined with fitness issues in the preceding one-day series as well.
Hetmyer, pugnacious opener Lendl Simmons, Hope, Nicolas Pooran, skipper and hard-hitting Kieran Pollard and then the genuine all-rounders Russell, Bravo and if fit Fabian Allen form a powerful batting lineup. Notably, this should be a landmark for Pollard who will be appearing in his 500th T20 match, amazing feat because of the first player to reach there.
Left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell will spearhead the bowling attack again. He was quite expensive in the 50-over series but his quality in this format is always remarkable. He and his fellow Jamaican Oshane Thomas or optionally Keswick Williams are likely to share the new ball with Russell, Bravo and Pollard would chip in with their clever medium-pace.
West Indies, again will be without champion spinner Sunil Narine owing to injury but they can rely on Allen who bowls left-arm spin with controlled variations while rookie leg-spinner Hayden Walsh Jr. has kept improving and can be a force to reckon with since this pitch is known to be responsive.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka would want to capitalize on home conditions and also use the psychological of defeating West Indies in the one-day series. They have something to use as well having beaten West Indie six times in their last nine T20 matches. The side which has been inconsistent for the last 16 months will have ace fast-bowler Lasith Malinga as their leader.
West Indies (possible): 1. Lendl Simmons, 2. Shai Hope (wk), 3. Shimron Hetmyer, 4. Kieron Pollard (capt), 5. Nicholas Pooran, 6. Andre Russell, 7. Dwayne Bravo, 8. Fabian Allen, 9. Hayden Walsh Jr., 10. Sheldon Cottrell, 11. Kesrick Williams/Oshane Thomas.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1. Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2. Avishka Fernando, 3. Kusal Perera, 4. Shehan Jayasuriya, 5. Angelo Mathews, 6. Dasun Shanaka, 7. Thisara Perera, 8. Wanindu Hasaranga, 9. Isuru Udana, 10. Lasith Malinga (capt), 11. Lahiru Kumara.