New Zealand v Sri Lanka | 1st ODI | 25 December | Sneddon Park | 23:30
After getting a bit of a cricketing lesson in the Test series, Sri Lanka will be looking to return to winning ways when they take on New Zealand in the first of five ODI's late on Friday evening. The Black Caps didn't make the final of this year's World Cup for nothing though, and Sri Lanka are going to have to pull out all the stops if they are to beat a side that contains some of the best exponents of the limited overs format.
To Win Match
New Zealand 9/20
Sri Lanka 7/4
There probably isn't a more exciting side in the world to watch right now than New Zealand. After losing the final of the World Cup earlier this year, they've gone on to record a comfortable series win against Zimbabwe while running both England and South Africa close away from home. Prior to the World Cup, they inflicted defeats on Pakistan, Sri Lanka as well as Australia.
There's a definite upward trend in New Zealand cricket at the moment as the sport gains a foothold in a country where rugby is treated as a religion. The rise of stars like Kane Williamson, Martin Guptil, Ross Taylor, Tim Southee and Trent Boult coupled with their magnificent showing in the 2015 World Cup launched the sport into the collective consciousness of the nation.
When you have a batting line up that consists of McCullum, Guptil, Taylor, and arguably the game’s most in-form batsmen, Williamson, you're not going to have any hassles scoring runs. All four players are capable of singlehandedly taking a game away from the opposition.Whether or not they'll be able to deal with someone like Lasith Malinga in overcast conditions remains to be seen though. He should get plenty of lateral movement; especially if there's been a bit of rain around and the wicket at Sneddon Park has a decent grass covering.
They also possess a bowling attack that can rip through even the best top orders in world cricket. The leader of the pack, Tim Southee, will be without his right hand man Trent Boult but with Doug Bracewell and Matt Henry in the squad, Southee will still be quietly confident that he and his bowling colleagues can raffle the Sri Lankans feathers.3
The only real chink in their armor is lack of consistency. They possess all of the raw talent required to become a limited overs superpower, however, they struggle to put in match-wining performances on a consistent basis. Don't be surprised if they slip up against a very strong Sri Lankan ODI team on Boxing Day.
It’s been a tough old year for longer format Sri Lankan cricket. While they’ve excelled in the shortest format of the game, sitting atop the ICC T20 rankings, they’ve slid down the Test (7th) and ODI (6th) rankings quite spectacularly in recent years. One feels that this may have something to do with the international retirements of Mahela Jayewardene and Kumar Sangakkara – two of the best batsmen of the modern era.
We also have to factor in the fact that nations who really excel in the T20 format tend to sacrifice any real progress on the Test and ODI front – see the West Indies for more evidence of this.
Although they’re struggling right now, Sri Lanka have the all of the ingredients to become a relevant force in the ODI arena again. In Angelo Mathews, they have one of the world’s premier allrounders. The ODI and Test captain has been a rock in this side since his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in 2008. His unique approach to batting – belligerent yet in control – his almost machine-like consistency with ball in hand and his unquenchable desire to restore Sri Lanka as a cricketing powerhouse making him the ideal person to take the tiny island nation forward.
One thing is for sure; however, Sri Lanka’s ODI squad is perhaps only two or three players away from consistently competing at the highest level again. Ajantha Mendis is probably one of my favourite bowlers to watch in world cricket at the minute. His unique finger-flicked legspinners reintroduced the sense of mystery back into spin bowling. All one has to do is look at the best T20 bowling figures in the world to understand how effective he can be. He currently holds the two top spots in terms of best T20 International bowling figures. Figures of 8-6 from four overs against Zimbabwe in 2012 and 16-6 against Australia a year earlier underline his supreme raw talent. Although he hasn’t been able to recreate that form of late, he does still show sparks of his brilliance from time to time, and at 30-years-old, his best years are perhaps still ahead of him. If he can get it turning both ways, the Black Caps may struggle to get him away.
Another bowling maverick who is more likely to get assistance from conditions in New Zealand is Lasith Malinga. Famous for his toe-crunching yorker, Malinga is likely to get a ton of lateral movement through the air at Sneddon Park come Boxing Day. If he can land the ball in the right sort of areas, he could well do the damage at the top of the order – keep an eye on him during this series; his form could be pivotal.
Sri Lanka will also be looking for big performances from the likes of Lahiru Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan. The two premier top order batsmen will need to be in top form if they’re going to outscore the likes of Williamson, Guptil and Taylor. They’re more than capable; however, they may struggle against Southee if they get bogged down.
Venue: Sneddon Park
Sneddon Park is a beautiful throwback to your typical English ground in the mid-1970s. It’s not the biggest ground in the world so you can expect the likes of Taylor and Matthews to clear to boundaries with ease if they get their eye in.
There should, however, be plenty of assistance for the quicker bowlers, and with a bit of cloud cover about, there should be a decent amount of lateral movement through the air. Expect the likes of Southee and Malinga to really turn it one here.
Verdict: Sri Lanka 7/4
Here I go, sticking my neck out again. I know that Kane Williamson is in the form of his life and Brendon McCullum remains one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world. But there’s just something about this Sri Lankan team – perhaps it’s their unorthodox approach to the game, an X-Factor of sorts. I'd love to see a team of mavericks getting one over the technique and prowess of Williamson and Southee. If you’re not feeling particularly brave though, back New Zealand to score the highest opening partnership at 7/10.
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