IN October, the northeast monsoon begins to creep in from the Bay of Bengal and turns Sri Lanka into a vast network of closely-spaced puddles.This is excellent for the nation’s paddy farmers, whose fields are made fit for replanting. It is less good for cricketers, whose fields are made fit for marine exploration. Spectators are advised to take umbrellas to any match in Sri Lanka, but going by the history of series scheduled for this time of year, snorkeling gear might not be unwise either.
The teams have come to understand they are in for a wet series. In addition to having much of the two most recent weeks indoors, they have also shared a rich and storied history of being holed up in dressing rooms.
West Indies’ first-ever Test in Sri Lanka in 1993 was so beset by bad weather it barely entered its third innings. Their most recent Test on the island did not make it past the first. That 2010 tour saw more hours of rain than cricket. The groundstaff were also fitter than the athletes by the end of it.
Maybe it’s the knowledge that the coming series will probably go the same way that this West Indies side barely turned up for the three-day warm-up match, in which they were comfortably outperformed.
The SLC’s only remaining solution to this recurring issue may be to demand Mother Nature stop scheduling monsoons in cricket season. Even this seems more likely to evince a positive response than asking the ICC for help with adjusting the cricket schedule.
Internationals would ideally be played from January to March in Sri Lanka, but as most teams are engaged in the southern hemisphere at that time of year, this rarely happens.
Instead, the SLC finds its international window increasingly hemmed in by T20 tournaments. West Indies could have toured in the drier month of September, for example, but a large chunk of that month had been reserved for the Champions League T20. As it turned out, that tournament did not even happen this year.
It will be a pity if the weather dominates as expected, because the teams appear to be evenly matched. Sri Lanka will feel they have the edge in home conditions, but with both sides in flux, nothing can be taken for granted.
The hosts have relied on spin to defeat West Indies on previous tours, but though they have a proven match-winner in Rangana Herath, their batsmen had been vulnerable against the turning ball in series against Pakistan and India. In Galle, especially, West Indies’ fortunes may turn on the potency of Devendra Bishoo’s leg-spin.
Inexperience abounds in both top orders. West Indies have the likes of Shai Hope, Rajendra Chandrika and Shane Dowrich on tour, who have six Test appearances between them. Sri Lanka will likely field a top seven containing Kusal Perera, who has played one Test, and Milinda Siriwardene, who is uncapped in the longest format.
Both teams are also without a permanent coach. The WICB has suspended Phil Simmons, who awaits HR trial for suggesting team selection had been subject to “interference from outside”. The SLC, meanwhile, has recently conducted its annual coach cull, and is now overseen by its eighth head coach (including interim appointments) in five years. Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts serve longer terms, on average.
The series may be a chance for young captains to mould the teams they will lead for the foreseeable future. Angelo Mathews is some way down that track already, having been captain for more than two years now.
But this is the first series in which the most prominent leadership figures of the past decade – Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – are absent from the dressing room.
Meanwhile, Jason Holder takes on his first assignment as Test captain, and does so with a view to marking out other young talents who may form the core of his side in the future.
For the moment, both sides are just hoping the skies clear in time for the cricket. Training yesterday was hampered again by rains in Galle. Sri Lanka’s meteorological department has forecast showers all week, which, given its track record, is as hopeful a sign as any.