Sri Lanka in New Zealand 2015-16 December 7, 2015

NZ's wolf pack lick lips at SL's rough diamonds

Sri Lanka arrive in New Zealand for the second consecutive summer, a little wiser from last year's beating, but seemingly not much better equipped
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Angelo Mathews could do with more support from his team-mates if Sri Lanka are harbouring hopes of flourishing in New Zealand © AFP

Brendon McCullum will not say it, but his team are wolves at home. His quicks do not blow their own horns, but on seaming decks, they make the ball sing. In the outfield, New Zealand whizz about like pinballs. In the slips, flesh-and-bone bends and flexes like elastic.

There will be talk of weakness now, after a series just lost, but do not believe it. New Zealand's XI may seem a little imbalanced with two allrounders injured. Do not buy it. It has been three full summers since New Zealand lost a Test at home. Eleven games since an opposition has broken them here.

Angelo Mathews and company have arrived in New Zealand for the second consecutive summer, a little wiser maybe for last year's beating, yet seemingly not much better-equipped. Sri Lanka have already lost the leader of their seam attack to injury. The top order they have brought is as green as the pitches they will play on. If modest returns from their tour match are any indication, Sri Lanka seem like a kid still queasy from his last theme park ride. It is already time to buckle up again. The next few weeks could be rough.

There is potential, as ever, in this Sri Lanka squad, but are there too many rough diamonds that need shining? Milinda Siriwardana's career has sprouted nicely in Kandy and Colombo, but will it take root in unfamiliar climes? Other unknowns include Kithuruwan Vithanage, who appears set to take up the No.3 batting position. He made runs against New Zealand A in October, but in his most recent Test in July, was bowled playing a shot that would have made Chris Martin wince. If any of the batsmen are injured or out of form, the man waiting to replace them is 20-year-old Kusal Mendis - the selectors' pet project - who has only one first-class ton, and 11 senior games behind him.

There is an inexperienced tearaway quick too, keen to leave a few welts and snap a few stumps. Someone should tell Dushmantha Chameera though, if he does not know already, that there is hardly a better place for a Sri Lanka seamer to make his mark. The island's two best fast bowlers had breakthrough performances in this corner of the world; Chaminda Vaas on a glorious 1995 tour, Lasith Malinga in a 2005 Napier Test. Encouragingly, Chameera emerged from the tour game with credit. Disappointingly for Sri Lanka, he was the only bowler to do so.

If modest returns from their tour match are any indication, Sri Lanka seem like a kid still queasy from his last theme park ride. It is already time to buckle up again. The next few weeks could be rough

There is the hope, often repeated by fans during this lull, that Sri Lankan cricket never stays low for long. There was Sanga and Mahela after Arjuna and Aravinda, wasn't there? And Herath after Murali? Dilshan to follow Sanath? Mathews now needs a team-mate or two to join him on the route to greatness. In Dinesh Chandimal, there have brief been glimpses of the extraordinary. Dimuth Karunaratne has trod a more gradual incline. It is on these three batsmen that Sri Lanka's innings will pivot. No one else in the top seven has played a Test in New Zealand. No one else quite knows what it's like to face Tim Southee with a slip cordon that seems to stretch to the horizon. Or to have Trent Boult bring his away-swinger closer and closer to the stumps each ball, like the tide washing in towards a sandcastle.

The hosts have an opener and an offspinner out of form, but at home, where the ball moves around, they may confidently return to the hyper-aggressive strain of cricket they love to play. They have the attack to trouble Sri Lanka, of course, but their middle order will daunt the opposition almost as much. Kane Williamson continues to make big contributions, wherever he plays. Ross Taylor and McCullum are more tightly tethered to the vagaries of form, but have established a pattern of peaking in alternation. When one is riding a rough patch, the other finds big runs.

There is no rich rivalry between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. It is their big neighbours each team would rather beat. They have often been evenly matched before, but this time, it's different. This time, Sri Lanka will have to spring a surprise.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Yohaan on December 9, 2015, 5:05 GMT

    1) Recalled Kaushal Silva's Test record & current form:

    2015- 9 Tests - 413 runs - 25.8 Av/ In NZ; 2 Tests - 92 runs - 23.0 Av Overall -24 Tests - 1,404 runs -31.9 Av.

    2) Kithruwan: was given 8 Test ings involving 3 series to score massive 92 runs @ 11 Av (2014 V SA 10 Av, V Pk 16 Av & 2015 V Pk 14 Av), during the same period & THEN SENT to NZ with SL-A as a REWARD. Now slotted as No3.

    3) WU Tharanga: was recalled after 7 y & given just 4 consecutive Tests Vs formidable SA & Pk in 2014 Jul-Aug starting with a sparkling 83 to V SA followed by a Match Winning 92 & 45 V Pk, gathered 306 runs @ 38 Av from 4 Tests, to be AXED Immediately from the squad selected to tour NZ in Dec. The isolation extended over one year until Jun 2015 & given just the final Test V Pk. He scored 48 & 46 batting @ No3 & AXED!

    UT scored 400r- 40 Av up to 6th Test given in August after 3rd layoff interruption in 6 random Tests & failed for the 1st time in 6th test to be AXED again (4th time in 12 months).

  • Ramith on December 9, 2015, 3:22 GMT

    My test team: 1.Karunarathna 2.Jayasundara 3.Mendis 4.Kithuruwan 5.Mathews(c) 6.Milinda 7.Chandimal(WK) 8.herath 9.Lakmal 10.Chameera 11.Pradeep

    My ODI team: 1.Dilshan 2.Dhanushka 3. Thirimanne 4.Chandimal(wk) 5.Kapugedara 65.Mathews(c) 7.Milinda 8.Sachithra 9.Malinga 10.Chameera 11.Lakmal

    My T20 team: 1.Dilshan 2.Dhanushka 3. Shehan 4.Chandimal(wk) 5.Kithuruwan 6.Mathews(c) 7.Milinda 8.Kulasekara 9.sachithra 10.Malinga 11.Chameera

  • gnanavelu on December 8, 2015, 16:13 GMT

    The sad part of the lankan fans is that they are comparing the young players to the retired stars. For example kusal was compared to next sanath and he is facing 4 year ban. Thirimanne was compared to kumar and he has also not shone. Lankan fans live in yesteryears. Now I saw someone comparing chamera to next malinga.They don't want new heros. It's lucky if the tiny nation gets couple of good batsmen and bowlers once in a decade. Can't expect more.

  • Cricinfouser on December 8, 2015, 9:38 GMT

    Kusal perera wouldve got ducks in swinging NZ anyway ( look at the practise match scores plus last champions trophey in england ) He IS a loss for the Odi's but in test's he wont be missed.Keeping is average abd he couldnt score even against west indies.

  •   Isuru Arunoda on December 8, 2015, 7:24 GMT

    Nobody talks about the climate challenges for SL younger players in NZ. They will be tested, physically, as well as mentally. When Sanga and Mahela were there, all young players did not take the responsibility. So they are not groomed well to play post-sanga-mahela era. This is a problem with the attitude of players and decisions of the management. As a true SL fan i'm sad about the position SL team in right now. But at least now, youngsters gotta put their hands up. Having nothing to loose on this tour i hope boys will play freely. All we can do is wish them good luck.

  • Sarang on December 8, 2015, 6:11 GMT

    I see that SL fans are already defensive. Whatever happened to the song "SL is the best Asian team". If SL batsmen could not last against Ishant Sharma on their own pitches, I don't see how can they last against Kiwis. The problem with them has been no young player (except Mathews) taking responsibility when Mahela-Sanga were in and hence, not groomed. They were supposed to end up in a situation like this with not one batsman dependable. This is not transition but actually lack of transition. Guys like Chandimal are 1-2 innings wonder. All other good sides like Aus, Eng, Ind, SA have had 1-2 new batsmen being groomed. Anyway, we can only wish them good luck.

  •   Hitesh Rawat on December 8, 2015, 6:01 GMT

    The Lankan's are under transition and with a couple of series under the belt, one would expect the team to come to their own. But, the series is in NZ and for most of the players its an untamed territory.

    I hope to see a fight, not from one or two players but as a team. However, my cynical self believes that the Lankan's might not be able to fetch a single win on this tour.

  • Dramit Singh on December 8, 2015, 5:47 GMT

    @BRISBANE_DA_VINCHI92....Thank you so much brother.have a nice day.

  • Jason on December 8, 2015, 5:39 GMT

    There is no way NZ will be taking SL lightly. These are the best players from a population of over 20 million where cricket is no 1 sport versus the best players from a population of 4.5 million where cricket is less popular. To write them off is crazy.

  • rob on December 8, 2015, 5:29 GMT

    @ CHETHANAROMESH: Yes, it's tough. Particularly the injuries. As for the other stuff, well, thems the rules, and the ICC expects everybody to abide by them. I don't know a lot about the Kusal case, but it sounds a bit similar to what happened to Warne way back in '03 or thereabouts. Unfortunately, with doping, ignorance of the rules is no excuse as Warne discovered.

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