Silva desperate for more centuries
Kaushal Silva is no stranger to the next step. His story so far has been full of incremental advances. At 28, he is already a veteran of Sri Lanka's arduous domestic staircase. From among his team-mates he had excelled for the longest in first-class cricket, before being granted a stretch in the national side.
Now, a full year since getting his big chance, he has embedded himself in the top order, with an average of 40.30 in 2014. But making it into the side has not quite been enough. The hunger that propelled him to 28 first-class hundreds before becoming a Test regular, now compels him to strive for a new standard of achievement at the top level as well. Having converted only one of his seven half-centuries into a ton, the next level might just mean a better conversion rate, Silva said.
"I'm not satisfied with just hitting fifties," Silva said. "I want the hundreds. I've done that at the club level and A team level, so I'm desperate to get over that hurdle here. Maybe there's a lack of concentration sometimes. I remember sweeping to get out after I'd hit 95 against Pakistan, and another occasion when I played a bad shot in the 80s. But in those situations, I need to go on for the team's sake."
Opening partner Dimuth Karunaratne's young Test career had similarly been plagued by an inability to make more of his starts, but he found the skill and desire to make his first big Test score in the second innings in Christchurch. His 152 in difficult conditions saw him partly shake off a reputation for being a batsman who gives his wicket away too lightly.
"I've batted a lot with Dimuth at SSC, and he's a batsman who has hit a lot of big hundreds at the A team and club levels," Silva said. "I'm very happy for him about his first ton. It's great for me, as we're always talking about how we should negotiate those early overs.
"Watching him do that is a big challenge for me, because I'm thinking I have to do really well in the next Test as well. I've also been hitting 30s and 40s, and so the next target is something much bigger. I want to score heavily."
Silva's partnership with Karunaratne had been moderately successful in their last tour together, in England in June, when they strung together opening stands of 54, 25, 37 and 40. While those were not imposing partnerships, they helped significantly ease pressure on Kumar Sangakkara, who did not miss crossing fifty once in the series, and finished as the highest run-getter.
In Christchurch, Sri Lanka collapsed in the first innings when their openers produced only four between them, but fared much better in the second innings, when Silva and Karunaratne put on 85 for the first wicket.
"The opening combination is very important to the team in a place like New Zealand, because we set things up for the whole batting line-up," Silva said. "We really saw that in the second innings, where the tone for the innings was set by the partnership between me and Dimuth. In England we were able to have a few good partnerships at the top, and that was a reason for our success there.
"As an opener, my plan is to somehow negotiate the first 15-20 overs - to make the new ball old. The two of us were talking a lot about batting out that period. In these conditions, Trent Boult and Tim Southee are very good, but we thought if we rotate the strike and take quick singles, they won't be able to bowl at a single batsman for a long time. Their rhythm can change then, which might lead to more scoring opportunities for us. That's what our plan was in the second innings, and that's what we will try to emulate in Wellington."
Sri Lanka had had extended preparation time before the tour of England, when the Test specialists had spent two weeks training in Sussex while the limited-overs leg of the tour took place. Silva said that intensive preparation had been key to his good performance in England - where he scored 146 runs with two fifties - but having now played a Test as well as the two-day warm-up game, in New Zealand, he feels he has a clearer idea of what it takes to prosper against the hosts.
"There's no huge difference between English and New Zealand conditions, but there is a difference in the attacks. These bowlers pitch it up more than the England attack, and their swing is greater. The thing Boult and Southee do well is swing it late. I've never faced bowlers who swing it so late, and are still so accurate. They are both in the top-ten world rankings, and it's a big challenge for us in these conditions, but we have the quality to counter them - I believe that firmly.
"In England there was more seam than swing, so here, we really have to be mindful of what our scoring areas are. We can't drive as much as we do in Sri Lanka, so we have to identify those things. We've got to restrict ourselves to the good scoring areas, and only move to our normal games after we've settled down at the crease."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando