CLOSE: Sri Lanka 169 all out, West Indies 13 for no wicket
Jason Holder showed there is life after leadership as his penetrating and consistent swing bowling ripped out the heart of Sri Lanka on the opening day of the first Test in Antigua – and to be fair there is precious little heart in the first place in a touring team that already looks on the way to a fifth successive defeat.
The giant Barbadian, whose demotion from the captaincy in favour of his fellow islander Kraigg Brathwaite was confirmed 10 days ago, picked up five for 27, four of those coming in a blistering spell after tea in which Sri Lanka slumped from 150 for five to 169 all out.
It was an eighth five-wicket haul in Tests for the 29-year-old, although he feared he might have missed out on the milestone, having seen Lasith Embuldeniya reprieved once after being given out lbw and Kemar Roach threatening to take the final wicket at the other end. A second shout some minutes later was also reviewed but revealed to be clipping leg stump – and no further runs had gone against his account.
Brathwaite had made an immediate impact on his first day as the permanent West Indies captain.
Having won the toss, always a useful attribute, and put Sri Lanka in, he turned to spin within seven overs – which resulted in the first wicket, that of opposition captain Dimuth Karunaratne, caught at short leg – and then swooped superbly at extra cover to run out Oshado Fernando with a direct hit.
Fernando answered Lihiru Thirimanne’s call immediately as the opener dropped the ball into the off side, but was still a yard too slow for Brathwaite.
The man who led the West Indies to a remarkable triumph with a weakened squad in Bangladesh showed a great willingness to attack when he could, crowding the openers as he tried to make the best use of off spinner Rakheem Cornwall’s height while the ball was hard.
When Holder was brought on half an hour or so before lunch, he found swing and a beautiful consistency with his line and length until Dinesh Chandimal could resist no more and feathered one through to Josh Da Silva on the stroke of the interval.
Sri Lanka lost two more wickets, to Roach, after the break as the right-arm paceman bowled Dhananjiya De Silva, back in the Test team for the first time since Sri Lanka’s first Test in South Africa, where he had retired hurt on 79, and had debutant Pathum Nissanka caught by Holder at slip. He later uprooted Dushmantha Chameera’s off stump as Sri Lanka faded in the final session, for figures of three for 47 from 16 overs.
Thirimanne, the left-hander, battled away, looking to add to a poor return in the Test arena that had enabled him to collect only two hundreds – the second in the first Test against England in Galle in January – and six fifties from 74 innings. He went to a seventh half-century from 129 balls with just three fours and found a different form of resistance in his flamboyant partner Niroshan Dickwella as they forged the highest partnership of the day – 58.
There was something in the pitch for all the bowlers, although nothing too extravagant in terms of spin or seam but there was an intensity about the West Indies that maybe hasn’t always been there in the past.
Cornwall, who dropped on a perfect line and length from the off and found bounce and a degree of genuine turn, and Holder, continued after tea, the pace bowler getting the ball to move across and away from the two left-handers and eventually the attack-minded Dickwella grew too impatient.
It was not good news for Sri Lanka with the tail starting with Suranga Lakma at No 8. He has a Test average of just over 11 and made no inroads into that as Holder found a leading edge and a swirling catch was well held by John Campbell running back in the gully area. The crucial wicket, though, was that of Thirimanne and he fell moments after edging through the slips to go to 70. Holder switched to round the wicket and Thirimanne aimed a tired drive and played on.
His back-to-the-wall effort may still prove important but it was hard to remember a moment when he ever looked fully in control.
Kyle Mayers, the hero of West Indies remarkable run chase in the first Test against Bangladesh, even got a couple of overs of his brisk-ish medium pace – and Brathwaite signalled his confidence in him by employing three slips and a fine gully. The experiment did not last too long and soon Roach was back into the attack and he and Holder ended proceedings rapidly.
Sri Lanka are a team without an identity at the moment after series defeats in South Africa and at home to England. They are also without a mainstay in the middle order in the form of Angelo Mathews, who had to return home for personal reasons. They will hope Tom Moody can bring them some inspiration when he takes up a director of cricket role. He was coach between 2005 and 2007 when they were a much stronger Test nation and were World Cup runners-up.
But Lakmal and the whippy left-armer Vishwa Fernando bowled with skill and energy to restrict West Indies to 13 without loss in 13 overs up to the close with Brathwaite and Campbell dropping anchor. Campbell in particular had to restrain himself, for seven off 44 balls, while the captain was in his element, three not out from 36 deliveries.