Sri Lanka face confident NZ

Spotlight on Kiwis pacer Bond in the first match of the tri-series


Daniel Vettori’s men, however, are well aware that they will have to bring more to the table than just honest effort if they are to upstage a solid Sri Lankan side and get a head-start in the single-header tri-series beginning here on Tuesday. 

New Zealand have seen more downs than ups during their current tour of the island nation. Just when they appeared to be getting back on track with successive wins in the Twenty20 internationals following their whitewash in the two-Test series, New Zealand suffered a setback, losing a 50-over practice match against a Lankan ‘A’ side, certainly not ideal preparation for a tournament in which India are the third side.

Throughout the Test series, New Zealand’s batting was wobbly, their batsmen’s skills coming under scrutiny from an admittedly superior home attack in demanding conditions. In Sunday’s practice match, the Kiwis rested regular skipper Daniel Vettori, middle-order batsman Ross Taylor and the returning paceman Shane Bond. With two premier bowlers not in the ranks, the bowling wasn’t expected to be up to the mark. Instead, it was the batting that let them down once again.

Interestingly, five-wicket man Daryl Tuffey will not be available for the tri-series as the paceman doesn’t figure in the one-day squad. The return of Vettori and Bond should restore the balance in the bowling department while Taylor will provide the much-needed meat to the middle-order. Bond’s return to the one-day scene will be watched with great interest. The right-arm paceman, who claimed three for 18 to shape the Kiwis’ second T20 win, will be playing his first one-day international since his comeback to the official fold from the ICL, and it remains to be seen if the paceman can repeat his effort over a period of 10 overs.

The Lankan bowling didn’t covered itself in glory in the two T20 matches. While the combination of Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis failed to contain the rampaging New Zealanders, paceman Dilhara Fernando, whose three-wicket burst spelt the Kiwis’ demise in the practice game, doesn’t find a place in the one-day side. In a further blow to their bowling, prolific off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan remains a doubtful starter with the groin injury picked up during the second Test.

For long, the Lankan batting has revolved around Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. With the robust Tillakaratne Dilshan establishing himself at the top of the order, the batting wears a solid look. Sangakkara also has to deal with the sensitive issue of Sanath Jayasuriya’s future in the side. Though the Lankan skipper has backed Jayasuriya, a poor 132 runs from his last seven one-day internationals coupled with almost next to nothing in the two T20s against New Zealand has prompted the local media to seriously question the veteran’s place in the side.

History is heavily stacked in favour of the side batting first, a staggering nine wins in the last 11 matches suggesting that the captain winning the toss will think little before opting to bat. The good news is that barring a sharp spell of rains on Sunday night, the weather has held well over the last 48 hours. If the second T20 international is any indication, the opening tie promises a run feast, a tinge of green on the centre wicket notwithstanding.

Teams (from): Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Upul Tharanga, Thilina Kandamby, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Malinga Bandara, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Dammika Prasad, Thilan Thushara.

New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (capt), Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor, Neil Broom, Ian Butler, Jesse Ryder, Jacob Oram, Brendon Diamanti, Gareth Hopkins, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Shane Bond, Jeetan Patel.
Umpires: Asoka de Silva and Billy Doctrove (West Indies). Third umpire: Gamini Silva. Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

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