The fight for lost reputation
Come Wednesday, the eyes of the cricketing world will be on Galle, where a new-look West Indies will begin their two-match battle against a new-look Sri Lanka with a lot of hope but with a little sparkle in the eyes of both sets of players.
It was never always like this, however, certainly not when the West Indies were in their pomp, when they boasted players like Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, and the fearsome four, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft.
Although they were never the world champions, despite winning the World Cup once, it was, for Sri Lanka, also not so in the days when they paraded batsmen of the class of Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, and Mahela Jayawardene, pacers like Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa, and Lasith Malinga, and a spinner like Muttiah Muralitharan.
The West Indies, as good as they may have been, or were, have a score to settle. In the vital statistics, they trail Sri Lanka.
In nine Test matches, the West Indies have never won in Sri Lanka, and in a total of 15 Test matches, the West Indies have won only three to Sri Lanka's six.
The good ol' days
In the early days of the contest, and in spite of their slide after dominating the world, the West Indies were good enough, in short series, to win a Test match and to take the honours.
In 2001, however, and in 2005, Sri Lanka, led by Vaas and Muralitharan, ambushed the West Indies in Sri Lanka and won every Test match, beating the West Indies 3-0 and 2-0 in fine style.
In 2001, batting star Brian Lara fought gallantly, but his 688 runs in six innings, for an average of 114.66, and three centuries, including twin centuries of 221 and 130, were almost covered in the rubble of the West Indies disaster.
The question today is simply this: Who will win? Will it be Sri Lanka or will it will be the West Indies?
On Wednesday, the two teams come face to face with almost similar problems, one with a new captain in Jason Holder, one with an almost new captain in Angelo Mathews, both teams with some new players, and both captains will be hoping and praying that their young hopefuls will become their young guns.
For Sri Lanka, the best of their batting is gone. Tillakaratne Dilshan, the attacking opening batsman with a thirst for runs, has called it quits, and so too have Sangakkara, the left-handed stylist who scores his runs with ease and grace, and Jayawardene, the man who sometimes looks as if he was born to bat.
Those three were the body and soul of Sri Lanka's batting and, without a doubt, they will be missed.
With Dushmantha Chameera and Mathews in the line-up and batting well, however, with Kaushal Silva, Lahiru Thirimanne, Milinda Siriwardana, and Dimiuth Karunaratne fighting positions, with 20-year-old Kusal Mendis or Dinesh Chandimal likely to keep wicket, Sri Lanka's batting may not be so short, especially playing at home.
Sri Lanka's strength, however, promises to be their bowling.
With left-arm spinner Rangana Herath bowling well, a lot is expected of him, so too Tharindu Kaushal, a relatively inexperienced off-spinner who has been barred from bowling the doosra, but who is so good that he is expected play and also to do well.
Sri Lanka will miss the arrow-like fast bowling of Malinga, but they also possess a good crop of swing bowlers who could make life difficult for the West Indies batsmen.
Shaminda Eranga is injured and will be out, but any two of Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Pradeep, and Suranga Lakmal, plus all-rounder Mathews and the pair of spinners, Herath and Kaushal, could be dangerous, especially at Galle.
For the West Indies, a lot will depend on Marlon Samuels, Darren Bravo, Kraigg Brathwaite, and Jermaine Blackwood, plus wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin and all-rounder Holder to post good totals with the wicket-taking responsibilities resting on the shoulders of Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach, Holder, and right-arm leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo.
It takes 11 players to do battle, however, and the other two who could also join the action are batsmen Rajendra Chandrika or Shai Hope, and fast bowler Shannon Gabriel.
Maybe, however, in an effort to add a little punch to the batting while assisting the main bowlers, and to make the fielding that much better, the hard-hitting all-rounder Carlos Braithwaite could replace Gabriel in a bid to field a team with enough batting and enough bowling to try and win a Test match.
Recently, Sri Lanka lost 2-1 at home to Pakistan and to India, and the West Indies drew 1-1 with England and lost 2-0 to Australia, also at home. The prospects, therefore, are nicely balanced and even.
The West Indies, however, have a good chance of winning for the first time in Sri Lanka, providing the players concentrate on the job at hand and do not allow the absence of coach Phil Simmons to affect them negatively, providing Braithwaite does not bat forever without scoring, providing Roach, Taylor, or Bishoo do not break down, and once captain Holder lives up to the great expectations.
In spite of the slow reputation of the pitches, the pace of Taylor and Roach, and the bounce of Holder, could make the difference.