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Can West Indies spark comeback in spin-haven Galle?

Joshua Da Silva goes on the back foot for a cut AFP/Getty Images

Big Picture

How do you solve a problem like Galle? Well, winning the toss and batting first would be a start. But what else can you do?

The fact is, there are few grounds in world cricket where the toss plays such a significant role - on pitches that are known for taking exponential turn as the game wears on, only twice have teams batting fourth chased down a triple-digit total successfully here.

On both those instances, the first by Sri Lanka in 2019 and the other by England earlier this year, the wins were borne out of substantial top-order contributions and a whole lot of discipline - both of which were lacking from the visitors the first time around in this series.

But, despite the nature and scale of the West Indies' 187-run first-Test defeat, they would do well to put that out of their minds swiftly - better teams than them have suffered worse at this venue after all. In fact, rather than being alarmed, they should instead look at the seeds of potential that sprouted from the game and look to nurture them.

While their top order collapsed rather ignominiously in both innings, the way the lower order - particularly Joshua Da Silva - provided resistance, should give those batting further up a bit more confidence in showing positive intent; shouldering arms is quantifiably not the way to go in Galle.

As for their top order, Nkrumah Bonner's second-innings 220-ball sojourn showed that application and resolve wasn't beyond them. More of the same, and the visitors could be in with a shout.

The home side, meanwhile, will simply want to avoid complacency. The win was certainly of the feel-good variety, and one that would have cast the mind back to when such thrashings were de rigueur in Galle. But captain Dimuth Karunaratne, speaking ahead of the second Test, gave the air of a man that refused to be blinded by the nature of the victory.

He sounded out the prospect of potentially drafting in an extra batter on a pitch that is expected to take on turn even earlier this time around, and it would be little surprise to see Sri Lanka turn up with just the solitary seamer on Monday morning.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLWLL (last five Tests, most recent first)
West Indies WWDDD

In the spotlight

Nkrumah Bonner was the only West Indian top order batter to record a 50-plus total in the first Test, and that too came amid what turned out to be West Indies' death throes as they toiled in vain to halt Sri Lanka's spin barrage. But what Bonner showed was that - even on a spiteful day-five turner - application and intent could get you far. In fact, he had already shown how adept he was at handling subcontinent pitches in West Indies' remarkable series win over Bangladesh earlier this year; there, across two Tests Bonner racked up 231 runs at an average of 57.75. Bonner clearly has the chops to handle what Galle and Sri Lanka's spinners throw at him, and West Indies will need for him to lead the way if they are to salvage anything from this series.

Like Bonner, Oshada Fernando has seemingly been entrusted with that all important No. 3 three slot, however he seems to have a peculiar hang-up about performing in front of his home fans. Oshada first broke on to the scene in Sri Lanka's now near-mythical Test series win in South Africa, while he was also among Sri Lanka's better batters in their Test series in the Caribbean earlier this year. However, his home average of 17.42 pales in comparison to his away one of 47.66. He looked largely uncomfortable at the crease in his two outings in the first Test, and Sri Lanka will be hoping for a much better showing this time around.

Team news

Sri Lanka will likely make just the one change from the first Test, with one of Dushmantha Chameera or Suranga Lakmal making way for an extra batter - possibly Charith Asalanka, who is in line for his Test debut.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt.), 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Oshada Fernando, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 7 Charith Asalanka 8 Ramesh Mendis, 9 Lasith Embuldeniya, 10 Suranga Lakmal/Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Praveen Jayawickrama.

The concussion suffered by Jeremy Solazano resulted in Shai Hope being drafted in as a concussion substitute in the first Test. If Solazano does not recover in time, Hope will likely retain his place in the side. The visitors also went with a spin-heavy attack in the first Test and that is unlikely to change.

West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt.), 2 Jeremy Solozano/Shai Hope, 3 Nkrumah Bonner, 4 Roston Chase, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Kyle Mayers, 7 Rahkeem Cornwall, 8 Jason Holder, 9 Joshua da Silva (wk), 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Jomel Warrican/Jayden Seales

Pitch and conditions

The pitch is expected to be dry, which means we could see notable turn even as early as the first day. The weather though is what will keep the game from folding too early, with rain expected periodically across the five days.

Stats and trivia

  • With six consecutive 50-plus scores in Tests, Dimuth Karunaratne is one short of equalling the world record.

  • Sri Lanka are now unbeaten in five consecutive Tests, their longest such run since 2016, when they went six without defeat (including five straight wins).

  • In 28 attempts, the team batting fourth in Galle has won on nine occasions - though only two of those chases have been of three-digit targets.