First T20: New Zealand v Sri Lanka

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

New Zealand v Sri Lanka | Thursday 7 January | Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui | 03:30

After losing both the Test segment (2-0) and ODI segment (3-1), Sri Lanka will be looking to salvage some pride from their tour of New Zealand when they square off against the Black Caps in two T20s.

While it’s a bit of an arduous task to get up in the wee hours of the morning to watch the two sides do battle; it’s well worth it as the both teams are fantastic exponents of the shortest format of the game.

To Win Match 
New Zealand 5/10
Draw 35/1
Sri Lanka 16/10

New Zealand
Having decimated their opponents in both the Test and ODI segments, the Kiwi’s will now look to put the icing on top of a three layered cake by beating the current T20 World Champions. They will have to do it without their talismanic skipper, Brendon McCullum, though. The Black Caps stalwart has decided to retire from the T20 arena. He will also bid adieu to the international stage after New Zealand’s Test series against Australia, which is scheduled to take place late next month.

While losing a player of McCullum’s quality would leave most international side’s severely handicapped, it may not actually affect the Black Caps too badly. Kane Williamson, who will now skipper the side, has been in fantastic nick during the bi-lateral series. And while the newly appointed skipper isn’t as devastating with the willow as McCullum is, he will undoubtedly help fill the void left by his predecessor.

Another man who will help to soften the blow of losing McCullum is Corey Anderson. The big-hitting all-rounder is still struggling with a back injury, which means he will be used as a specialist batsmen for the two T20s. Fellow all-rounder, Grant Elliot, will also make a welcome return to the squad having missed out on the ODI series due to a broken arm.

While the return of Elliot and Anderson is a massive coup for the hosts - they are still missing a few key men due to injury. Nathan McCullum is out with a knee injury while James Neesham has also been ruled out. The loss of Brendon McCullum shouldn’t affect the side too much as fellow spinner Mitchell Satner has been in terrific form.

Speaking of Satner, I think he may be the ace in the hole for the Black Caps. The left arm orthodox spinner will play a vital role in containing the likes of Angelo Matthews and Tilakaratne Dilshan during the middle overs of the Sri Lankan’s batting innings.

Sri Lanka
A horrid tour may just end on a high note for the reigning World T20 Champions. This is the format of the game that the Lions thrive in. I think the main reasoning behind this is the side’s soft underbelly - their middle to lower order. They simply don’t have a strong enough batting line up to compete in the Test arena and whilst they often start their ODI batting innings with a load of vim and vigor, they tend not to last the fifty overs – the final ODI is all the evidence I need to back up this claim.

T20 cricket seems to be tailor made for this current Sri Lankan squad. Their top four are able to have a go right from the outset - mainly due to them not having to worry about batting their overs out. This often leads to a great platform being laid for the likes of Angelo Matthews to work off.

Their bowling attack also seems to prefer the shortest format of the game. As is customary with teams from the sub-continent, the Sri Lankan’s have a plethora of spinners in their squad. With slower bowlers having become the key players in T20 cricket - as is evidenced by four of the top five ICC ranked T20 bowlers being spinners – the Sri Lankans are nicely primed to give the Black Caps batting order a real test.

Two Sri Lankans actually hold positions in the top five rankings. Right arm off spinner, Sachithra Senanayake, currently sits in third spot on the rankings, while Latish Malinga occupies fourth. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, though – and anyone who enjoys a bit of pace bowling - the man affectionately known as “Slinger Malinga” will miss the two-match series with a knee injury.

So with their frontline seamer out, the 'Lakans will be leaning heavily on the spinners to produce the goods.

Venue: The Bay Oval
We return to the scene of the final ODI for the first T20, The Bay Oval at Mt Maunganui. Like most cricket facilities in New Zealand, the ground is a throwback to a bye gone era. Instead of massive stands and huge hospitality boxes, the ground seating facilities consist of grass banks and fern trees.

Anyway, this isn't the travel channels so let’s move onto the stuff that really matters, the playing conditions.

This will be the first time the Bay Oval hosts an international T20 fixture. So there isn’t a lot of statistical data to go by. The stats from the ODI’s played here seem to indicate a bit of a low scoring deck - no team has managed to score over three hundred runs at the ground. New Zealand’s 294 run total – set against Sri Lanka in the final ODI this week – is the highest score ever posted here.

The deck seemed to favour the quicks last time out with Matt Henry picking up five sticks for the Black Caps and Nuwan Kulasekara taking three for the Sri Lankans.

The local weather bureau is predicting overcast conditions for Thursday’s match, which will play into the New Zealand quicks hands.

Verdict: New Zealand 5/10
I was leaning towards Sri Lanka before I took a glance at the weather forecast. The overcast conditions will play right into the hands of the Black Caps and for this reason, my money is on them winning the first T20 comfortably.

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