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West Indies eye final berth, surge in ODI rankings

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Despite West Indies’ big win in Harare, on paper, these are two well-matched teams with plenty to play for: the winner will be guaranteed their place in the tri-series final. The relative inexperience in both squads makes it hard to pick an out-and-out favourite, and conditions in Bulawayo should also be a leveller.

West Indies’ tied game against Zimbabwe will at least have acclimatised them a little more to the pitch and conditions at Queens, as Sri Lanka’s first match was rained off.

Sri Lanka also have some ground to make up against West Indies after their trouncing in Harare. Their middle order remains unproven, and if this series can be viewed as something of an audition for the upcoming tour of South Africa, there will be several young players hungry to state their case – particularly against the greater firepower of West Indies’ quicks.

Youth and international inexperience are also in no short supply for West Indies at the moment. It is obviously very early days yet, but without a head coach, and with virtually all of West Indies’ established senior batsmen in the wilderness, young captain Jason Holder desperately needs his peers to gel into a new core for the side.

Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite’s promising form will give him something to build and bank on, while Carlos Brathwaite’s bowling has been fairly effective in Zimbabwe.

Both for this team and for the immediate future of West Indies cricket, every win is an important one in these circumstances. Though still ninth in the ICC ODI rankings, they are just one point behind Pakistan, and a strong show in their remaining games will put them within touching distance of Bangladesh at No. 7.

Between now and September 30, 2017, the cut-off date for direct qualification for the 2019 World Cup, West Indies currently have 11 ODIs scheduled (not including the final of this tri-series), but eight of those matches are against a resurgent England ODI side, and five of those are in England.

That’s a tough assignment for what could still be a fairly inexperienced squad, and so West Indies have a lot more than a place in Sunday’s final to play for tomorrow.

Rovman Powell played a crucial hand in the win against Sri Lanka
Rovman Powell played a crucial hand in the win against Sri Lanka

In the spotlight

Shai Hope’s good form will buoy West Indies, and make him a target for Sri Lanka, while Suranga Lakmal will have to be at his best behaviour after he was fined 50% of his match fee for aggressively throwing the ball towards Zimbabwe opener Chamu Chibhabha during Monday’s wash-out. Yet, the spotlight might be focussed on what is happening above Queens, rather than on the ground.

All three teams will have an eye on the weather on Wednesday. If there is another wash-out, Zimbabwe will effectively be out of the running, needing a massive bonus-point win to draw level and increase their net run-rate.

The threat of rain also makes the toss important – inclement weather is more likely in the afternoon, meaning there could be Duckworth-Lewis permutations while chasing. Finally, the drainage issues at Queens mean that even relatively modest rain could rule a match out entirely.

There are two main areas of concern on the outfield, should it rain again – on the northern side of the ground, and also near the sight screen at the Airport End. Should there be any significant showers during this game, in the absence of a super sopper, drainage will be an issue, especially after the heavy rains of the last few days have saturated the soil.

Teams’ news

Sri Lanka’s XI barely got a look-in on Monday, and given that conditions are likely to be identical, there is no reason for Sri Lanka to fiddle with their line-up. The grip on this slow surface makes Dasun Shanaka a good pick.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dhananjaya de Silva, 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Upul Tharanga (capt), 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Sachith Pathirana, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Jeffrey Vandersay.

With two wickets in his last five games, and none in this series, the form of Sulieman Benn will be a worry for West Indies. Aside from Ashley Nurse, the other spin option in their squad is Devendra Bishoo, and given his gritty performance in the Tests against Pakistan last month, this change makes sense.

Another player they might want to give a game to is Jason Mohammed, the hard-hitting middle-order batsman, though West Indies may want to secure their place in the final before tinkering with their top-six.

West Indies (possible): 1 Johnson Charles, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Evin Lewis, 4 Shai Hope (wk), 5 Jonathan Carter, 6 Rovman Powell, 7 Jason Holder (c), 8 Carlos Brathwaite, 9 Ashley Nurse, 10 Devendra Bishoo, 11 Shannon Gabriel. (ESPNCricinfo)

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