Jason Holder leads a young team. His top order has limited experience of playing spin in Asia. His own spinner is capable enough, but is not of Rangana Herath’s calibre yet. And his pace attack was neutered by a dry Galle track.
Perhaps the only department in which West Indies might have surpassed the hosts is in the field. But apart from several sloppy misfields, and two missed run-out attempts, West Indies also shelled five catches – a sixth catchable ball was not attempted. It was these mistakes that Holder held most responsible for his team’s innings-and-six-run defeat in the first Test.
“We created chances with the ball, but we just didn’t take them when we came,” he said. “If we had, their first innings total would have looked a lot different. If we had new batsmen in at crucial stages when our fast bowlers were fresh, we would have had a chance to have a good burst at them.”
Sri Lanka piled on 484, thanks in part to Dinesh Chandimal, who hit 151. Three chances were missed of Chandimal, the first coming at mid-on when he was on just 11. If Jerome Taylor had held on to that high catch, as he backpedaled towards the boundary, West Indies would have had Sri Lanka at 129 for 3. Instead, Chandimal and Karunaratne went on to add 238 together, parting only when the score had swelled to 339.
West Indies had entered the match with five specialist bowlers, including four seamers. Holder saw nothing wrong with that combination, and was complimentary of his attack’s discipline. No bowler had conceded more than four runs an over, after 152.3 overs in the field. Legspinner Devendra Bishoo collected 4 for 143, and was instrumental in removing seven Sri Lanka wickets for 59 runs, when the hosts had threatened to take the total beyond 500.
“I must commend our bowlers,” Holder said. “They did really well in the first innings. To come back at the opposition and actually bowl them out was very, very commendable. I thought our spinner bowled reasonably well, and our part-timers in Marlon Samuels and Kraigg Brathwaite did a wonderful job for us. I thought the combination was good enough for this game. It was unfortunate that we didn’t hold our chances. I guess we paid for it.”
Having rallied towards the end of Sri Lanka’s innings, however, West Indies produced a mediocre first-innings batting performance that sent them hurtling towards defeat. Only one batsman managed a fifty, and their total fell 34 runs short of avoiding the follow-on, which Sri Lanka enforced. Six first-innings wickets fell to Rangana Herath, who later extended his match tally to ten.
“It’s important that we put up a first innings total that’s respectable,” Holder said. “We only scored 250-odd in the first innings, and it set us back. We were pretty much behind the game from there. It was a track you could score runs on once you applied yourselves. Not much in it for the bowlers. Even Rangana Herath – I thought with the harder ball, he was more effective. As the ball got softer he had to work a lot harder for his wickets. I just think we need to be a little bit patient when we’re batting against him, and just be a little bit more positive and decisive.”
Darren Bravo and Jermaine Blackwood produced the visitors’ best batting in the Test. Bravo had hit a fifty in the first innings, and appeared most comfortable against Herath from West Indies’ top order. Blackwood’s fourth-day 92 was the highlight of an otherwise dark day for the visitors.
“I thought Darren Bravo played really well,” Holder said. “He got a start and started to look very fluent and comfortable. We just need to make that transition where we carry on and convert.
“Blackwood is a very good player and shows positive intent all the time. I think that’s one thing that’s what we’ve been stressing with all the batsmen: play positive, trust in your defence, trust in your strokeplay, and play your game. Unfortunately some of our batsmen didn’t get the score we were looking for. One thing we did was apply ourselves to a certain extent, but we are just not carrying on.”
The match was also Holder’s first as Test captain, in just his ninth Test overall. He took over from Denesh Ramdin following the 0-2 Test defeat against Australia. “I enjoyed leading. It was a very, very enjoyable experience,” Holder said. “I enjoy playing Test cricket and I enjoy playing for the West Indies. I enjoy the camaraderie out there, and there’ no pressure at all. My guys make it easy for me. I’m still in good spirits and I’m confident we can turn things around.”