The ICC Cricket World Cup begins in Christchurch, with co-host nation and pre-tournament dark horses New Zealand meeting a poorly prepared Sri Lankan outfit. With the grounds in New Zealand being on the small side, it provides an interesting contrast to Australia, where the square boundaries are long. Both New Zealand and Sri Lanka should qualify for the next round of competition comfortably, however both will know how important it is to pick up a win in the opening match to build momentum and confidence for later in the tournament.
To Win The Match
New Zealand 5/10
Sri Lanka 31/20
Brendon McCullum captains perhaps the best Black Caps side to ever enter a world tournament. New Zealand are considered serious contenders at this year’s showpiece, playing in familiar conditions and having cultivated success in the limited overs game over the past few years. Key player Kane Williamson is on the mend from a shoulder injury and him, as well as Martin Guptill, could make or break New Zealand’s campaign. It is somewhat unfair to assign them such expectations, but poor performances from the two top order batsmen will put New Zealand under significant pressure. Guptill will need to show composure alongside McCullum, while Williamson will, in time, break all kinds of New Zealand batting records. For now, Williamson only needs to continue scoring at the obscene rate he has been over the past year. In fact, about thirteen of New Zealand’s fifteen-man squad have showed form over the past few weeks in the lead-up to the tournament. They have a pace attack capable of troubling any batting line-up, have death bowlers who hit the mark with regularity and will entrust veteran Daniel Vettori to strangle the scoring rate.
Sri Lanka went down 4-2 in a recent ODI series with the Black Caps, one fixture scratched as a no result. This has created doubts about Sri Lanka’s ability to go far in the competition. Traditionally a strong side at world tournaments, Sri Lanka will be striving to ensure they live up to the expectations they have created. They still posses the vastly experienced trio of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, making them the most capped ODI side at the competition. Dilshan and Sangakkara both averaged above 60.00 in their recent series loss, with Jayawardene not far behind. This bodes well for the Sri Lankans but, aside from Nuwan Kulasekara, their bowlers were dreadfully short of wickets Twice New Zealand were allowed to recover from scores of 101/5 and 93/5 to win matches, while Sri Lanka’s batting line-up also crumbled twice after the dismissals of their stalwarts. They are struggling to find a consistent opening partner for Dilshan, not wanting to shift Jayawardene up from number four and risk losing him early. Good news for Sri Lanka is the likely return of Lasith Malinga from injury, which will provide a huge boost in death bowling potential at the back end of the innings.
Hagley Oval in Christchurch is not a ground that the Black Caps will be too familiar with, having played only one Test and one ODI at the venue. Hagley Oval was developed after Christchurch’s Lancaster Park was damaged extensively by an earthquake in 2011 and has only recently been granted ICC accreditation. New Zealand won this year’s Hagley Oval hosted Boxing Day Test against Sri Lanka by eight wickets as well as an ODI a few weeks later by three wickets in a low-scorer. One can expect decent bounce and carry, with a hint of turn.
VERDICT: New Zealand 5/10
The Black Caps dominated the one-day contests between the sides a mere month ago and come into this match the more confident in their ability There are very few areas of weakness in this New Zealand set-up at present. With such a well-rounded side and with players in form, don’t look further than an opening victory for the Black Caps.