On Saturday, New Zealand and Sri Lanka meet at Basin Reserve in Wellington. The match sees Sri Lanka, who is struggling for form and affected by suspensions and retirements, meet a resurgent New Zealand side with no such problems.
The Sri Lankans travel to New Zealand for two Tests, three ODIs and a T20 before they head off for Australia before finishing their tour in South Africa. New Zealand’s summer sees India then Bangladesh visit.
Sri Lanka faced England at home in the recent series and slipped to defeat in all three Tests. Losing Rangana Herath to retirement and Dinesh Chandimal to injury did not help their cause but England’s mastery was evident.
Since the home series against England, Akila Dananjaya has been suspended due to his bowling action being deemed illegal. New Zealand, on the other hand, begin their summer of international cricket on the back of an excellent 2-1 series win against Pakistan in the UAE.
The series win was well and truly earned as both sides of Pakistan’s ability was exposed. In the first Test, a disastrous collapse handed New Zealand a win before coming back dominantly with an innings victory in the second Test. The final Test saw more batting frailty from Pakistan as Kane Williamson’s batting masterclass set up the victory.
Sri Lanka’s mission is highlighted by the fact that they have won just two Tests in New Zealand in 17 attempts. Both victories were comprehensive, by 241 runs in 1995 and 217 runs in 2006, but the current crop of Sri Lankans will do well to keep up with an improving New Zealand side.
The last four Test matches in New Zealand have seen Sri Lanka fall to heavy defeats. Despite the final scorelines, Sri Lanka did have good positions in two of these matches but New Zealand’s batters made the difference.
Kane Williamson’s 242 not out at Basin Reserve in 2015 is ominous. Arguably, the New Zealand captain is a superior batter now and will be a key wicket for Sri Lanka. Dimuth Karunaratne scored 152 at Hagley Oval on the same tour but the match was pretty much lost in the first innings.
New Zealand’s 13 for the first Test saw Will Somerville discarded from the winning team in the UAE. Ajaz Patel won the battle of the spinners, as New Zealand’s wickets are far less spin friendly, but it seems harsh as Somerville produced the fourth best debut bowling figures for the Black Caps.
This decision highlights the options, and ruthlessness, that New Zealand plays with. Central Districts' Will Young received his debut call-up but is unlikely to play. Having lost only once at home in the last two years, the Blackcaps will be confident of victory.
For Sri Lanka, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara, Dushmantha Chameera, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep make up the bowling attack. Pradeep has been recalled after over twelve months away from the Test side. Kaushal Silva was omitted after a poor home series but captain Dinesh Chandimal returns after his groin injury.
Sri Lanka’s away form has been patchy over the last two years but wins in the UAE against Pakistan, Bangladesh and the West Indies will give them heart that they could pull off an upset.
The venue for the first Test is Basin Reserve in Wellington. New Zealand have been beaten at the venue, by South Africa in 2017, but resounding wins against Bangladesh and the West Indies demonstrates their ability to dominate sides not at the top of their form.
Both matches saw the Black Caps put over 500 runs on the board in the first innings of both games. New Zealand average 28.83 runs per batter at the venue whilst Sri Lanka’s five matches have resulted in 26.57 per batter.
Hagley Oval in Christchurch hosts its second Test match of 2018 after England’s tour in March. Sri Lanka have played one Test at the ground in 2014, another ‘Boxing Day’ Test match and New Zealand comfortably won by eight wickets. Tim Southee and Trent Boult did much of the damage in that match and could well come back to haunt the Sri Lankans again.
One of the key clashes between the two sides will be between the captains, Kane Williamson and Dinesh Chandimal. The Sri Lankan captain has a fine batting average of 44.29 but Williamson’s 51.57 is evidence of his batting superiority.
At the time of writing, the latest ICC rankings have been issued and the Black Caps captain has become the first New Zealander to achieve over 900 points and he is just seven points below Virat Kohli. Chandimal is ranked 12 but has only scored over 50 once in his last eight innings. Williamson has three including his majestic 139 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.
I fully expect to see New Zealand take the Test series 2-0. Sri Lanka will push hard, have a bowling attack that can do well in the conditions but New Zealand has too much quality not to prevail. Plenty of runs will be scored by both sides and Basin Reserve certainly has the capability to serve up a wicket to promote that. However, comparing both batting and bowling attacks it becomes clear that the Black Caps should take home both Tests.
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