“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouf.” – Mike Tyson (quote reproduced here in the original Tysonian)
Sri Lanka’s preparation for this Test series has very nearly been ideal. Before the squad even assembled, most were playing in the four-day National Super League
, Sri Lanka’s top first-class competition. They then had a residential camp
at the newly-refurbished ground at Radella (roughly 1330 metres above sea level), a venue whose conditions – both in terms of the climate and the seam movement the surface offers – aim to emulate what Sri Lanka are expecting in New Zealand.
In the age of intense scheduling pressure from franchise tournaments, and bilateral white-ball fixtures, this was as clear an approach to a Test series as Sri Lanka has had in years.
But how much will this preparation have helped when the teams make first contact at Hagley Oval? It is a venue at which New Zealand have decked them twice. In 2014
, New Zealand’s quicks tore through Sri Lanka to dismiss them for 138, after New Zealand had plundered 441 at a run rate of over five. In 2018
, Trent Boult and Tim Southee skittled them for 104 before Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls hit big hundreds, New Zealand establishing a lead of 659 in the second innings.
Essentially, it comes down to whether Sri Lanka’s batters can compete in the first innings. If they are blown away, as they had been on the two previous occasions, New Zealand will likely control the game. Even if they don’t, New Zealand might back themselves to make huge ground in the back end of the game, having just beaten England after being asked to follow on.
Sri Lanka’s likely attack is also particularly inexperienced, with Vishwa Fernando
, Kasun Rajitha
, Asitha Fernando
, and Prabath Jayasuriya
having played 17, 13, seven, and three Tests, respectively. Sri Lanka’s likeliest route to competitiveness is for the experienced batting order (Mendis, Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews have all hit difficult hundreds in New Zealand) to put up serious runs. New Zealand’s attack is perhaps not what it was three years ago, but at Hagley Oval, this remains a daunting ask.
New Zealand WLDDL (last five Tests, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WLWLW
Eight more runs, and Kane Williamson
will complete 1000 against Sri Lanka. The only other side he has reached this milestone against is Pakistan. He has only joined the squad on the eve of the match, having had a bereavement in his family
. But he is fresh off an outstanding hundred against England in his last outing, and no batter will worry the Sri Lanka attack more than him.
Among Sri Lanka batters, Angelo Mathews
has the best record in New Zealand. Thanks largely to his scores on the last tour, where he made 83, 120*, 33* and 22*, he averages 55.88 in the country. Once Sri Lanka’s busiest cricketer, Mathews has largely been a Test specialist over the past two years. Last year at least, this seems to have had a positive effect on his Test batting, as he hit 615 runs at an average of 51.25. He is coming off a decent stretch of scores too, having made a first-class century
in the first half of February.
The surface is likely to start off green, as they often do at this venue. Towards the end of the match, however, it is likely to flatten out. There is some rain forecast for the first two days.
New Zealand are likely to have a four-man seam attack, consisting of captain Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, and probably Matt Henry and Blair Tickner.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Michael Bracewell, 8 Tim Southee (capt), 9 Matt Henry, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Blair Tickner
Sri Lanka may consider fielding Lahiru Kumara for his pace, but his tendency to break down in Test matches may sway them towards the more reliable options of Vishwa and Asitha.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Oshada Fernando, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Angelo Mathew, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Niroshan Dickwella, 8 Vishwa Fernando, 9 Kasun Rajitha, 10 Prabath Jayasuriya, 11 Asitha Fernando
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