The West Indies go into the first Test of the Sobers/Tissera series today at Galle, Sri Lanka, under a cloud as they are without head coach Phil Simmons and had a less than impressive preparation match against a Sri Lankan President’s XI.
Despite this, new captain Jason Holder is still upbeat.
He is the youngest ever Test captain and in charge of a struggling unit but says the focus would be on beating Sri Lanka and moulding West Indies into a competitive side.
“It is a special day for me … taking the field for the first time as captain but for me it is bigger than me at this point in time,” Holder told reporters. “There is a new dimension to our team in terms of a young group so I think it is important for us to get into this Sri Lankan team as early as possible. They’re in a sense finding their way as well and it is just important that we start well, put some early pressure on them and make early inroads into their side.”
He added: “The hardest thing so far was adapting to the heat but I think we’ve done that pretty nicely. Obviously in the Caribbean it is very hot at certain times of the year and we’ve tried to embrace it and enjoy it as much as possible.”
Holder added that his team has worked very hard and made the most of their time available to prepare for the Test. “We have controlled what we could control. There has been rain a bit but we are all professionals, we have our focus and our minds are tuned into the game.
“We have had to battle the heat but I think we have gotten over that quickly. The batting needs to be looked at, as certain batsmen did not spend enough time in the middle during the warm-up game. However, in speaking to them over the last few days they understand what they need to do and I have full confidence in our batsmen.”
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews says that the West Indies are a dangerous side despite the absence of senior players. “They remain a dangerous side despite the absence of (Chris) Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and (Keiron) Pollard. They have the personnel in there to destroy any team, so we have to be very careful and we cannot afford to take our foot off the gas, if we are to defeat the West Indies. They remain a dangerous side and we are well aware of this fact.”
Sri Lanka will be looking to the experienced Dinesh Chandimal to hold the innings together. “Chandimal will not keep wickets, we need him up the order and we are looking forward to good things from him.”
Apart from his promotion, the only change likely from the Sri Lankans is the uncapped Malinda Siriwardene coming in at the number six position. Siriwardene made a century playing for the Sri Lankan Cricket Board President’s XI against the West Indies on the weekend.
The pitch will offer something for everyone says curator Chanaka Sampath. He did warn however that it may be a bit on the dry side, which means that the West Indies may want to avoid batting last on this result-oriented strip.
The West Indies team although far from the one that dominated the world in the eighties and nineties, still has appeal with many of the people here looking to find their way to the ground to see the Caribbean men.
The fans have been looking ahead with great expectation as both teams are in a state of rebuilding. While television revenues for the this series is six times lower than what Sri Lankan Cricket (SLC) got for the recent Indian visit, the fact that the West Indies are here is enough for the people to come out.
This venue rated one of the most picturesque in the world was totally destroyed by the 2004 tsunami and remains the most colourful of Sri Lankan grounds. The atmosphere is likely to be electric despite the fact that it is ‘white clothes’ cricket, as people have been talking about making this match a cricket celebration for the seaside City.
However, rain is expected to spoil the party at the Esplanade, as in October, the northeast monsoon begins to creep in from the Bay of Bengal. The country’s water level is already high, as was evidenced by the lagoons from the drive down to Galle from Colombo.