Windies face wizard in Murali' at Galle from Tony Cozier In GALLE
Stabroek News
November 13, 2001

The old 17th century fort that the Dutch used to repel invaders during their time as colonisers forms the imposing backdrop to the West Indies' opening Test against Sri Lanka, and only the fourth overall, starting here today (12.30 am east Caribbean time).

But both teams have opted to depend on craft rather than firepower to achieve their objectives in the 21st century cricket battle.

There was a time when the West Indies' policy would have matched that of the Dutch by simply blasting the opposition into submission with a battery of fast bowlers.

That arsenal is now severely depleted and, for the second time in three Tests, they have opted to base their attack primarily on spin. Dinanath Ramnarine and Neil McGarrell have been chosen, as they were in the fourth Test against South Africa in Antigua last April, on the evidence of a dry-looking pitch.

The fast bowling alternatives were restricted by the latest injury to one of the five fast bowlers but it is doubtful whether the permutation would have changed, given the circumstances.

Merv Dillon, Cameron Cuffy and Kerry Jeremy were the casualities who had to be sent home from Zimbabwe in June even before the Tests got underway. Now Reon King has developed a suspected hernia.

Even though manager Ricky Skerritt said King would have been able to play with pain-killers, it was a risk not worth taking, especially since the two picked, Dillon and Colin Stuart are Nos. one and two anyway.

A decision on whether King can continue on tour will be taken in the next few days. If he can't go on, a replacement does not spring to mind.

Of more immediate concern are the lack of preparation entering the Test and the spectre of the opposition's strike weapon, a little wizard by the name of Muttiah Muralitheran, whose distinctive light up even more than usual at the prospect of twirling his wrist and elbow on the pitch at the Galle stadium.

The seasonal weather in the Test cricket country closest to the equator has left the West Indies with just over two days cricket out of a possible six as match practice against two Sri Lanka 'A' teams.

At least, all the batsmen have had some time in the middle and Chris Gayle has brought along his prolific form from Zimbabwe, Kenya and the Caribbean. But a couple of the key bowlers are short of work.

The bustling Stuart, the find of the Zimbabwe series, managed only 12 overs in the match at Matara last week before the heat and the humidity got the better of him and he came down with cramp.

McGarrell wasn't able to send down a single ball of his left-arm spin before rain intervened in the opener in Colombo. Of the others, Dillon, in first first-class match since the fifth Test against South Africa in April, had 30 overs and leg-spinner Ramnarine 29.1 in Matara.

It leaves the batting with the responsibility of raising a total sufficiently large to allow the bowlers time to consolidate it. Given the venue and Muralitheran's record there, it is a considerable task.

In the last four Tests at Galle, the little off-spinner with the rubber-band wrist and contortionist's elbow has taken 32 wickets at 17 runs each.

He has sent down an average of 37 overs an innings and the West Indies can expect to see plenty of him during the next few days and all through the next six weeks in which they will play two more Tests and a triangular one-day series also involving Zimbabwe.

Hooper had a simple answer to the inevitable media question on Muralitheran yesterday.

"We are going to treat Muralitharan like anybody else, by trying to put the loose balls away and keeping the good balls out," he said in that matter-of-fact way of his .

Nor is he surprised that Sri Lanka will carry three spinners and only two fast bowlers.

"We've had a look at video tapes of the series against England and the Galle pitch looked like it turned more than at the other venues, so we knew they would be thinking about three spinners," he said. "Traditionally, spin has played a big part here."

It will be easier for him, and for Brian Lara, two master batsmen with excellent records against spin, but none of the younger brigade has yet encountered anything quite like Muralitheran for turn, flight and variation. It should be quite an experience.

Reports that Muralitheran's bowling shoulder has bothered him of late were discounted yesterday by tea physio Alex Kontouri as a "minor" niggle.

The support spinners are the orthodox left-armer Niroshan Bandaratillake, 26, who is recalled after two and a half years, and the all-rounders, captain Sanath Jayasuriya, left-arm, and Thilan Samaraeera, an off-spinner good enough to score an unbeaten 103 against India in Sri Lanka's massive 610 for six declared in August.

Opener Marvan Atapattu, Mahele Jayawardene and the returning Hashan Tillerheratne also got hundreds and the dangerous captain only 30.

Aravinda deSilva and Arjune Ranatunga, once the linchpins of the batting, have retired in the past two years and Ranatunga, the World Cup winning captain, has turned to politics. But the batting is still demonstrably strong.

Sri Lanka have won four of the six Tests on the ground. The West Indies have lost 18 of their last 22 overseas. They are disturbing statistics.

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (capt), Marvan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Russel Arnold, Hashan Tillakaratne, Thilan Samaraweera, Chaminda Vaas, Niroshan Bandaratillake, Muttiah Muralithathan, Ruchira Perera

West Indies: Carl Hooper (capt), Daren Ganga, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brian Lara, Marlon Samuels, Ridley Jacobs, Neil McGarrell, Mervyn Dillon, Dinanath Ramnarine, Colin Stuart.

Umpires: John Hampshire (England), Peter Manuel (Sri Lanka). Match referee: Raman Subba Row (England). Ends.