Vol. 5 Num 400 Tue. July 12, 2005  

WI's mission impossible

Sri Lanka begin an emotional Test series from Wednesday, the first at home since the tsunamis ravaged the island nation seven months ago, hoping their depleted West Indian rivals will join the party.

The protracted sponsorship row between the cricketers and officials has robbed the West Indies of almost all their big players, including the world's top-ranked batsman Brian Lara, for the two-Test series.

Captain Shivnarine Chander-paul, a veteran of 86 Tests, is the only one in the 14-man touring party to have played more than 10 Tests. Six of them are absolute rookies.

"Chanderpaul and his cricketing babes face what appears to be a mission impossible," said respected West Indian cricket writer Tony Cozier.

"The players are inexperienced and unprepared for the sudden challenge that has come their way."

Lara's absence is particularly galling for Sri Lankan fans, who fondly remember the brilliant left-hander's astonishing 688 runs in just three Tests in 2001 despite a 3-0 romp by Sri Lanka.

"My disappointment at not seeing Lara this time is bigger than an elephant," said Percy Abeysekera, Sri Lanka's most recognised and vocal cricket fanatic.

"We don't want one-sided matches."

The sponsorship dispute, described by Cozier as "a senseless and self-defeating squabble", denies Lara a chance to move closer to becoming the most successful Test batsman of all time.

With 10,818 runs from 117 Tests, Lara is only 356 runs short of Australian Allan Border's world record of 11,174 from 156 matches.

Sri Lankan captain Marvan Atapattu admitted the absence of Lara and other regulars will dampen the excitement of taking part in a landmark series for his team.

The first Test at the Sinhalese sports club here will not only be Sri Lanka's 150th match, but also launch Australian Tom Moody as national coach and mark prolific spinner Muttiah Muralitharan's return after 11 months from a shoulder injury.

The series will also enable the cricket-crazy nation to put aside memories of the tsunami disaster.

Some 31,000 were killed and millions made homeless when giant waves struck Sri Lanka on December 26 last year and damaged beyond repair the Galle international cricket stadium on the south-west coast.

Sri Lanka called off an ongoing tour of New Zealand as news of the tragedy broke and waited till April to return there for two rescheduled Test matches.

"Cricket was the last thing on our minds in December, but now we are keen to get on with the game," said Atapattu.

"It does not matter whether it is the first Test or the 150th, we have to do our best. The team will be motivated enough even though we are disappointed we will not be playing the best West Indian team.

"Every sportsman likes to test his might against the best."

Muralitharan was the world's leading bowler with 532 wickets when he injured his shoulder during a home Test against South Africa in August last year.

Spin rival Shane Warne of Australia zoomed ahead in the intervening period and now starts the Ashes series against England on July 21 -- the same day the second Sri Lanka-West Indies Test begins in Kandy -- with a world record tally of 583.

Moody, who helped Australia win two World Cups as a player in 1987 and 1999, replaced compatriot John Dyson as Sri Lanka's coach in June after being interviewed, and rejected, by India in favour of Aussie batting legend Greg Chappell.

Chappell's India will join Sri Lanka and the West Indies for a one-day triangular series from July 30.