|Scorecard:||Sri Lanka v New Zealand|
|Event:||New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2012/13|
DateLine: 16th November 2012
Sri Lanka v New Zealand
1st Test 2012
After a string of rain-ruined limited overs encounters, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are facing a two match Test series with the perhaps a forlorn hope that they will see five days of cricket in each. However, it seems almost certain that the weather will intervene at some stage or other but will there be enough play in Saturdayís 1st Test in Galle (4am GMT, Saturday) for either side to secure a result?
Although, familiar rivals in limited-overs competition, the sides have not met in a Test competition in three years, when a succession of five results defied the draw-favouring conditions. The contest seems similar this time around. Sri Lanka have bigger fish to fry later this year, and this couldn't be a better opportunity to prepare for that series against an opposition that upstaged Michael Clarke's men in 2011.
New Zealand on the other hand, have not won a Test series in Sri Lanka since 1998, and this really is as good a chance as any to right that dour record.
After suffering a tremendous slump in Test form following the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankans seem to be veering onto the slow road to recovery. The Test victory against the South Africans in Durban 11 months was by and large the catalyst to instil a mentality of belief in the Sri Lankan camp. Some form of success followed in the limited overs game and they found themselves drawing at home to England in a two-match Test series and beating Pakistan 1-0 over three matches.
Sri Lankaís bowling is an area where they have concerns however and Jayawardene will be without Lasith Malinga who no longer plays Test match cricket. Ajantha Mendis is injured so, much will depend on Rangana Herath who had a good series against England when he took over as the primary spinner and although not yet half the bowler Murali was, his accurate and probing slow left-armers proved quite difficult to get away and the wickets followed but was disappointing in the recent One Day Internationals. Tharindu Kaushal, a 19-year-old off-spinner has also been included in the squad who has played no first class cricket. Overall, this is a weaker area where the tourists can exploit.
Sri Lanka require a swift decision in their reliance on Nuwan Kulasekara over the pace and bounce of Shaminda Eranga. Chanaka Welegedera, meanwhile, is back from injury and is eager to re-establish himself as the host nation's premier left-arm fast bowler.
Sri Lanka still have weaknesses in their batting. It is vitally important for their experienced men to get a good start and for one of them to go onto a big score in order for Sri Lanka to take a proper grip on the game. The middle-order is still fallible to a certain extent but one would say that, especially on the subcontinent, their batting is likely to be their greatest strength here. Sri Lankaís batting will, once again, rely on the combined efforts of Kumar Sangakkara and captain Mahela Jayawardene. The skill of these tho is impressive enough but their consistency is even more remarkable and New Zealandís bowling attack does not seem to pose enough of a threat to their likely dominance in the Test. However, the absence of Tillakaratne Dilshan is a hefty void to fill, and is likely to be replaced by the uncapped Dimuth Karunaratne, who hasn't played first-class cricket for three months.
Sri Lanka have won just one of their past five home Test series since New Zealand last toured in 2009 and skipper Mahela Jayawardene is looking forward to trying to turn that recent record around.
The Black Caps have found themselves in a terrible run of form and one wonders where it is that their salvation lies. With just enough missing in the batting department to make it seem light on talent and the same in the bowling department, the future of New Zealand cricket looks grim.
For the record, the Kiwis' fragility against spin has been well documented - they have only ever won one Test series on Sri Lankan soil and that was almost 30 years ago - but the current team went some way to disproving such thoughts during the tour of India earlier this year and might prove the critics wrong this time around.
As is always the case with the Black Caps though, a few players stand out among the rest.. Ross Taylor is a good captain and will willow-wield his side out of tricky situations, however his shot selection often leads to his demise. The same is the case with Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill. Often they start with intent and look good until a lapse in concentration sends them back to the changing room.
However, Taylorís side are boosted by the return of Martin Guptill, an important opening batsman who was rested for the one day leg of this tour. Guptill was in excellent form earlier in 2012 and his partnership with Rob Nicol at the top of the order will be a vital one in this match.
Kane Williamson comes into his own in the Test arena with a suited technique and a gritty determination which hardly ever sees him throw his wicket away. He's been bumped up and down the order in the ODIs in recent weeks so will feel a need to prove himself. He's also probably the best player of spin, along with Brendon McCullum, in the side.
New Zealand's bowlers were criticised in the ODI series, as not until the last match (another one abandoned). In the final ODI, Tim Southee claimed 3-18 in 5.3 overs and got the ball to swing viciously away from the right-hander, which bodes well for the upcoming match.
It seems as though Jeetan Patel will be used as the speciality spinner, with a wide variety of seam and pace options within the squad. Nevertheless, one might feel, given the bowling attack they have, New Zealand are outclassed here and following their trials and tribulations against the Indian spinners, have an uphill battle ahead.
The Black Caps have endured a miserable 12 months during which they have lost their past three Test series, crashed out of the World Twenty20 at the Super Eight stage and won just four of 14 one-day internationals.
Both sides have opted for rookies in spinner Tharindu Kaushal and spinning all-rounder Todd Astle - there must be no dillydallying in blooding them first up. The Galle pitch - arguably the fastest to deteriorate in world cricket today - demands their inclusion at the expense of a seamer.
Despite the unpredictable rain in the region at the moment, the weather seems to indicate enough play to find a winner. Sri Lanka are the far stronger side and with home ground advantage are likely to score some mammoth runs in the first innings and skittle the Black Caps with their spinners.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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