January 3-7, 2015.
The second innings of the Boxing Day Test is what both sides have kept in mind in the approach to the second Test. For Sri Lanka, the fightback is a source of self belief. “We can compete out here,” is the thought they have embraced. For the hosts, memories of that second innings have prevented them from “getting too far ahead of ourselves.” The Christchurch match was won on the back of stunning first-innings performances, but New Zealand are taking nothing for granted in Wellington.
Having now had more time to acclimatise, Sri Lanka are expected to be a sterner opposition, but New Zealand still hold the aces. In a nine-month period in which Sri Lanka have already faced the England and South Africa attacks, Kaushal Silva said he has not ever seen swing as late and accurate as what Trent Boult and Tim Southee delivered. Many also thought Brendon McCullum would not top his 202 in Sharjah for a long time, but he did so on his very next outing, on a seaming deck. Add Kane Williamson’s form, and the general confidence surging through this side to the equation, and New Zealand appear among the most potent Test forces in the world at present.
Sri Lanka’s path to parity is marked out by grit, and that is a quality they have possessed plenty of in the past year. They are outgunned man-for-man in these conditions, but feel they can hold their own as a team. Aggressive batsmen have been prepared to go slow. The lower order has made some runs. Angelo Mathews has held the whole operation together, making vital stands with the tail, and providing sparse but important breakthroughs with the ball. For this match they also have Rangana Herath, who has a track record of running through New Zealand, albeit on much more helpful surfaces.
New Zealand WWDLW (last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LWWDL
In the spotlight
Hamish Rutherford’s Test career so far has been an endeavour to make good on the promise of his 171 from 217 balls on debut against England in 2013, but in 25 completed innings since, he has crossed fifty only once. Known in domestic cricket for his positive approach – which should make him a good fit for this New Zealand side – Rutherford must make runs in Wellington or risk being cut loose again, as he was after the tour of the Caribbean last year.
There is perhaps no harder worker in international cricket than Kumar Sangakkara, and visibly distraught at his match-aggregate of seven in Christchurch, he has virtually lived in the nets since. Perhaps he knows that this attack has laid him low before. In the last Test series against New Zealand, Sangakkara made only 21 runs in three innings – and that was in Sri Lanka. He has a sublime record against every team, and in every continent, and he will be desperate to prove himself once again, on what will probably be his final overseas Test.
Tim Southee has suffered a minor ankle injury between Tests, and a decision about his availability has not yet been made. McCullum said Doug Bracewell would take Southee’s place, should he prove unfit. Corey Anderson has regained fitness, but with James Neesham having made runs in Christchurch, the hosts have suggested they will stick by him. Kane Williamson is also carrying a shoulder niggle, after landing awkwardly on it, but McCullum expected him to play.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Tom Latham, , 2 Hamish Rutherford, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum (capt), 6 James Neesham, 7 BJ Watling (wk), 8 Mark Craig, 9 Neil Wagner, 10 Tim Southee/Doug Bracewell, 11 Trent Boult
Sri Lanka might have been tempted to play two spinners at the Basin, but the inch of grass seen on the pitch would probably have scuppered those thoughts. Herath, who was likely to be a straight swap for Tharindu Kaushal, is only 50-50 to play. “Herath must pass a fitness Test on Saturday morning before he is cleared to play,” Mathews said. Dinesh Chandimal may also come in for Niroshan Dickwella, and Dhammika Prasad’s place may be under threat from Nuwan Pradeep.
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Kaushal Silva, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Rangana Herath/Tharindu Kaushal, 9 Dhammika Prasad/Nuwan Pradeep, 10 Shaminda Eranga, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
This pitch looks even greener than the surface at Hagley Oval did in the approach to that Test, but locals say that does not necessarily mean it will be a seamers’ paradise throughout. The surface will be spicy on the first day, but then has a tendency to flatten out somewhat, though it is expected to retain the pace and bounce that will keep bowlers in the contest. The weather forecast is good for the first few days, but worsens towards the end of the Test. The wind, of course, always has a bearing on the match in Wellington.
Stats and trivia
• New Zealand have gone unbeaten in 10 matches at home. The last side to defeat them was South Africa, in March 2012
• Rangana Herath has 31 New Zealand wickets at an average of 19.58 – his best against any opposition. His three wickets in New Zealand, though, came at 40 runs apiece, in a Napier Test back in 2005
• Brendon McCullum’s 1164 runs in 2014 came at a strike rate of over 72. This despite his rearguard 302 against India in Wellington having come off 559 balls
“Tim is incredibly honest with his assessment and most of the time he will play even if he’s not quite right. I think in this circumstance he’ll make a pretty astute judgement on whether he thinks he’s right or not and we’ve got trust in our support staff as well as in our physio and coach to make the right decision. We’ll see how it scrubs up in the morning, and if he is a risk that’s not worth taking, we won’t take it.”
Brendon McCullum suggests New Zealand may err on the side of caution with Tim Southee’s ankle injury, with a World Cup on the horizon.
“I look to score runs and try to be positive. That has always been the strength for me, regardless of the situation and conditions. I stick to that game plan and it has worked well.”
Angelo Mathews lays out the simple approach that has brought him success all over the world in the past year.
Courtesy: Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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