So, finally the drought of cricket is over in Sri Lanka, and New Zealand will be taking on Sri Lanka at Hambantota to relieve 21 million cricket fans who have been made to starve for nearly 3 months. Though not a Titan vs Titan game, I will definitely glue myself to the TV, having not watched my favorites play any competitive cricket on TV for the past 3 months. Though the CHOGM in Colombo has pushed all the games in the series out of Colombo, the interest for a true die-hard fan of Sri Lanka Cricket, remain at the optimum level or slightly higher since cricket is making a return in Sri Lanka after 3 months, which by all means a huge gap.
Sri Lanka will definitely start off as the match favorites against a New Zealand team that didn’t win even a single match, the last time they played in the island. But New Zealand will be relieved to know that Hambantota is the friendliest track for a speedster and New Zealand’s pacers will have to come to the party, if they are to win the match.
With the history backing the pace men, it will be no surprise if Sri Lanka prepares a slightly spin friendly or a feather bed given New Zealand’s inability to play spin, let alone unraveling Sri Lanka’s twin mystery spinners.
Though on first sight the series might seem a bilateral one, in reality it’s going to be a triangular tournament. One depleted line up will be playing a slightly strong oppositions who are yet to find their feet with their youngsters and these two teams will be up against a formidable foe, who when get going can never be stopped. Millions of Sri Lankans would hope the cricket drought would not be ended with the heavens opening up and a full play would mean a miracle. The love story between cricket in Sri Lanka and rain would better any love story written, and to be written but unfortunately no body is willing put it into a book.
Rains apart Sri Lanka will play with a point to prove about the survival of Sri Lanka in cricket after the retirement of the 3 juggernauts. That would mean little else than a good performance from Thirirmanne, Chandimal or Kusal Perera would virtually mean a defeat. Luckily for them, they are all in good nick thanks to the new selector Sanath Jayasuriya for organizing practice games and the key would be to translate that form directly into International cricket.
New Zealand on the other hand would consider giving Sri Lanka a hard time a victory considering both their defeat to Bangladesh and the absence of their three major players.
Watch out for
Kyle Mills being a pretty good fast bowler for New Zealand would be looking to make his mark as the leader cum bowler and the added responsibility would mean his performance is likely to get a boost. Mitchell McClenaghan might come in handy considering Sri Lankans’ weakness against left arm pace bowling. The last time he played Sri Lanka, he had a good game.
After a successful stint for SRH in the Champions League, Thisera Perera will be a key in the lineup. Though he didn’t make a mark in the practice game,s Perera’s knack of performing big at the bigger stage might prove paramount for the balance of the line up.
Pitch and Conditions
The tracks in Hambantota have favored the faster bowlers but given New Zealnd’s strength in pace bowling and their weakness against Spin, it will not be a surprise if a spinning track is in the waiting.
Given the unreliability of Sri Lankan weather, teams might choose to bowl first and bat second to gain the advantage, if the match is to be decided through D/L method. Note that the team batting second had a stark advantage the last time these two met in the island.
The New Zealand team is completely alien to me and I would better sit and watch who plays tomorrow, rather than to make a prediction.
There is a rival between Dimuth and Kusal for the openers spot, but I believe Kusal’s ability to make an impact and his aggression would get him a chance ahead of Dimuth who seems like another version of the Sri Lankan lack-fire middle order. Angelo Mathews hinted that Sri Lanka would play all three seniors until the series is won.
The youngsters are good fighters, and they may have a chance, but the main thing is that we win this thee match series. The current squad of 16 has only been selected for the first two matches to in Hambantota. If we win the series, then of course we can think about giving an opportunity to the youngsters.
Sri Lanka Kusal Perera, TM Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Dinesh Chandimal, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Thisera Perera, Nuwan Kulaseekera, Lasith Malinga, Sachithra Senanayake