Sri Lanka about a year ago was a struggling Test side. Even though they were beating non-Asian sides at home, they were still struggling for consistency. But in the last year, they have had some impressive results. They beat Pakistan in UAE which is not an easy thing to achieve and also win a Test series in South Africa earlier this year thereby becoming the first Asian side to so.
Sri Lanka at home is a different prospect altogether. Their batting will be boosted by the return of Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews towards the end of the World Cup showed some good form. Their bowling attack has been doing well over the last year or so and they have a good one for the home conditions. Kusal Perara who probably played one of the best knocks by a visiting batsman in a chase against South Africa will be the key to Sri Lanka’s chances.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has also had a good time in Test cricket. They are a very tough side to beat at home but also have become a very competitive side away especially in Asian conditions. Their win against Pakistan in UAE was something which was achieved with great skill and understanding of the conditions at hand. Kane Williamson and Tom Latham are brilliant players of spin and with Henry Nichols, in the middle order, they have a solid batting line up.
Their bowling attack also well prepared with the left-arm spin of Ajaz Patel who was instrumental in New Zealand’s win against Pakistan. The second spinner spot will be a toss-up between Todd Astle and William Somerville.
Kusal Perera (Sri Lanka): Perara played arguably one of greatest innings chasing in a Test match earlier this year. His 153* was the stuff of legends and in a struggling batting line up, he will once again be crucial in the middle order. The return of Mathews and Chandimal will help though.
Suranga Lakmal (Sri Lanka): Sri Lankan bowling attack has done well and they do have some good young fast bowlers in their midst. Suranga Lakmal is their most experienced pacer and was one of the key figures in Sri Lanka’s win in South Africa. Considering New Zealand’s batting strength, early wickets with the new ball will be imperative.
Kane Williamson (New Zealand): The New Zealand captain is one of the best players in the world and possibly along with Latham their best player of spin as well. Williamson played very well against Pakistan in that series win and will be hoping to replicate that success in this series as well.
Ajaz Patel (New Zealand): Ajaz Patel was a revelation in the series against Pakistan in UAE. Even though he hasn’t done much since then with the ball the wickets in Sri Lanka may be to his liking. Spinners will play a key part in this series and Patel will be the key for the visitors.
What they said?
“We did our basics right in South Africa and that’s the reason why we won. We are in a good position now and we are excited to play tomorrow. What I have done is to give freedom to all players and they have gone onto express themselves with their performances,” Said Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne ahead of the first Test
“Every time you play any team it’s very, competitive, but now there’s that added carrot where in two years time everyone is vying for an opportunity to play in a Test Championship final, which will be a really exciting thing to be a part of,” said an excited Kane Williamson while kicking off his teams Test championship bid.
Sri Lanka XI:
Dimuth Karunaratne (C), Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera (WK), Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal, Vishwa Fernando, Akila Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan
New Zealand XI:
Jeet Raval, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, William Somerville, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel
Galle is a stronghold of this Sri Lanka team and they have traditionally done well there. The loss to England last year at home is something of an aberration but again it also proved that teams who come well prepared can definitely challenge the hosts. New Zealand is a tough team to beat but again they have a very tough task ahead of them. This will be a good series and the performance of the batters from either side will be the decisive factor.