And so Sri Lanka ran out of time, as rain, bad light and resistance from a few West Indies batsmen, Kraigg Brathwaite most notably, prevented the visitors from levelling the series. Stellar second innings batting, allied with below par second innings bowling by the West Indies — Shannon Gabriel being the remarkable exception — conspired to place the visitors in a position of ascendency. But with the West Indies precariously positioned at 147/5 chasing 296, rain and bad light put a halt to a rather interesting game.
Perhaps another two hours would have been enough for Sri Lanka to capture the remaining five wickets. Ironically, exactly that amount of time was lost in the morning of the second day as Sri Lanka chose, unwisely it turns out, to protest a ball-tampering charge laid against Dinesh Chandimal. One wonders if they actually saw footage of the incident before commencing their protest, and it was therefore no surprise that the Sri Lankan captain was found guilty and as a result suspended for the third Test. He was also docked his match fee.
Still, it was an improved Sri Lanka that turned up in St. Lucia. They were better in every area. Their batting was more composed, less reckless; their bowling, despite a curious and surprising decision to leave out Rangana Herath, was more incisive; their catching was more secure.
If their first innings total of 253 was under par, they came back stronger in the second innings by battling their way to 342, setting the hosts an improbable run-chase.
Unlike the first Test, where the bulk of the runs were made by Chandimal (who also made a first innings hundred in St Lucia) and Kusal Mendis, the second Test saw useful contributions from Roshen Silva and Niroshan Dickwella as well. More is still required from the top order, especially since their main run-getter will be unavailable for the next game.
The Sri Lankan bowling did rather well. Debutant Kasun Rajitha and the ever threatening Suranga Lakmal gave the hosts a scare, quickly reducing them to 64/4 as they embarked on their run chase.
Lahiru Kumara has been a revelation to Caribbean fans, who would have been seeing him for the first time. He troubled everyone with his pace. Gabriel’s fire has caused a stir this series. Kumara has not lagged far behind.
The Darren Sammy Stadium surface was much more helpful to seam than it was to swing. Apart from the later stages of the match, when some rough developed, hardly a ball turned. But the bounce was generous early on, became a bit inconsistent as the game wore on, and there was also some seam movement available. It was under these conditions that Gabriel produced the best bowling of his career, grabbing 13 wickets in the game and gaining the distinction of possessing the third-best bowling figures in West Indies cricket history.
The pitch offered assistance to the fast bowlers skilled enough to accept it. Gabriel welcomed the help and bowled like he has never done before. But other members of the West Indies attack didn’t. Miguel Cummins, for example, was disappointing. His 32 overs in the game failed to yield a single wicket. To be fair, at least one catch was floored off his bowling, but his length and direction certainly needs to become more reliable if he is to deserve a regular spot on the team. Fast bowler Keemo Paul, who was with the A team in England, has been summoned to the squad as replacement for Guyanese batsman Shimron Hetmyer, and should replace Cummins in Barbados.
Captain Jason Holder was also not at his best, and also inauspiciously joined Gabriel in being denied a wicket due to his overstepping. Considering his propensity to generate high bounce and away movement, he ought to have been more menacing on the surface in St Lucia.
The West Indies largely have Brathwaite to thank for escaping with a draw. The Barbadian opener clawed his way to an unbeaten 59, made off 172 deliveries, when the weather intervened for the final time. He did not appear to be in good form thus far, and the flaws in his technique were apparent in Trinidad and during the first innings in St Lucia, but his renowned fighting qualities came to the fore and he refused to be moved.
His opening partner Devon Smith made 61 in the first innings and that score should have him sitting a touch more comfortably side. Yet, in truth, his batting did not suggest longevity at the crease. His defects, both to seam and spin, were apparent and showed a significant degree of vulnerability. It was difficult for the selectors to have ignored his entreaties for a place in the side. But his four innings this series have not hinted at him becoming a long-term fixture.
Shane Dowrich’s 55 in the second innings again oozed class, and Shai Hope, though forced to retire hurt after a frightful blow to his ribcage from a 148 kph rocket from Kumara, gently signaled that he had some pedigree as a batsman. Their team desperately needs for them to become regular run-scorers.
The action now shifts to Barbados for a day-night affair, a first in the Caribbean. Sri Lanka will surely be weakened by the absence of Chandimal, their captain and best batsman. This should make the West Indies serious favourites to win at a venue that was once a Caribbean fortress. If Gabriel can find the force and the fire that he had in St Lucia, then winning in Barbados is a seriously strong possibility, something Caribbean fans would welcome, having been long starved of a series victory against a major Test-playing opposition.