Sri Lanka eyeing successful start to Caribbean tour

Published: Friday, March 21, 2008, 16:59 [IST]
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Sri Lanka begin their quest to create history in the Caribbean on Saturday, when the first Test in their series of two against West Indies opens at the Guyana National Stadium.

On their two previous trips to the Caribbean, the Sri Lankans have walked away empty-handed - losing 1-0 on both occasions in series of the same length.

But there is heightened expectation that they can achieve their first series victory in the Caribbean on this trip, when they take into consideration the relative strength of both sides.

"As a team, we have been playing some really good cricket and our Test record speaks for itself, and we have been competing away from home which has been an issue for us," said Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jaywardene.

"We are just going to do what we do best, and we are going to concentrate on what we have to do.

"We have been playing well, but there is still room for improvement, so there are a lot of challenges in front of us, and our goal is to confront those challenges, improve ourselves, and keep moving forward.

There is also a second objective for the Sri Lankans in this series - and it is to enhance their record away from home.

Two drawn series against England and New Zealand in the last two years may have suggested that Sri Lanka may be turning the corner overseas, but they suffered a setback when Australia won both Tests in their series last November.

"We have been dominant at home, but away from home, we have started to win matches and we have become more consistent," said Jayawardene.

"It has a lot to do with our mental preparation. The last three, four, five years, we have settled down nicely.

"We have an attack now that can penetrate in any conditions which is a good thing, and this has helped a lot, since you need to take 20 wickets to win a Test match. Once we found that combination, things have begin to turn around for us."

Sri Lanka's attack has been compromised however, with the absence of Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, and Farveez Maharoof, but Jayawardene feels it's an opportunity for someone else to play a key role.

"We have some really talented players coming through the set-up, and though we failed to win on our last two tours of the Caribbean, we are determined to win and show that this is not a lost opportunity, so we are looking to make this a successful series for us."

West Indies captain Chris Gayle may be able to empathise with Jayawardene, since the home team too, has an abysmal overseas record in the last five years.

But Gayle will be in no mood to do any favours for the Sri Lankans, as the West Indies home record too, has been shaky in recent years, and the left-handed opener will want to improve it significantly in his first series as captain on home soil.

"It's going to be tough against Sri Lanka, since they are a good all-round team and have started to play some good cricket on the road," said Gayle.

"A lot of teams have come to the Caribbean and beaten us, including India two years ago, and there is a challenge there for us to put a stop to it.

"We have been playing competitively lately. We started well in South Africa, but the injuries prevailed in that series.

The West Indies final 11 will be of great interest, since Ramnaresh Sarwan is making his return to the line-up, following a spate of injuries over the last nine months.

With the pitch likely to be typical Guyanese featherbed, and Marlon Samuels banned by the sport's world governing body from delivering his off-spin darts because of a suspect bowling action, there is a strong case for the inclusion of someone to balance the attack.

Left-hander Ryan Hinds may be the ideal choice, since he like Samuels is an accomplished batsman in his own right, and also bowls tidy left-arm spin.

But it would be a refreshing choice if either the beanpole left-arm spin bowler Sulieman Benn, or the stocky off-spin bowler Amit Jaggernauth, two bowlers with a track record in the West Indies first-class competition, is added.

Both captains were satisfied with the preparations their sides had leading into the match, as the West Indies players were engaged in their domestic first-class competition, and the Sri Lankans used the inexperience of the Guyana Cricket Board Select XI to spend valuable time on the park.

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