McCullum wary of Sri Lanka's 'underrated' attack
Sri Lanka may appear the weaker team on paper, but the hosts remain wary of a seam attack that's "underrated" and "world-class" senior batsmen in the opposition, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said.
Of the visiting squad, only seven have played Tests in New Zealand before, but two medium-pace bowlers - Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep - had created problems for New Zealand previously. In January, the pair shared seven wickets for 134 at the Basin Reserve to help dismiss the hosts for 221. Pradeep had also made early breakthroughs in the second innings of that match before a series of dropped catches allowed New Zealand to overturn a 135-run, first-innings deficit.
Both Pradeep and Lakmal are likely to share the new ball in Dunedin, while tearaway quick Dushmantha Chameera is expected to be the third seamer.
"I think Sri Lanka's fast-bowling stocks are pretty underrated to be honest," McCullum said. "They've got some very high quality seam bowlers within their ranks - albeit inexperienced. They've gone through a lot of changes. When you lose guys like Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, there's going to be a period where they need to adjust and adapt to new guys starting their careers. We're very respectful of the challenge that these guys will put to us."
Among others McCullum expected to pose a challenge to New Zealand are Sri Lanka's two most senior batsmen - Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal. Both men will be expected to fulfill secondary roles in the series, however, with Chandimal likely to take the gloves in Kusal Perera's absence, and Mathews required to bowl in seam-friendly conditions.
"Playing as a wicketkeeper-batsman is tough, but Chandimal's a really, really good cricketer," McCullum said. "He's been around a long time now. He's got a level head on his shoulders too, and he's held positions of responsibility in the Sri Lankan setup. It can be tough, but sometimes having two strings to your bow can free up a player. I expect that he's going to be one of the key wickets for us. With Angelo as well - who is a world-class player in that middle order - we've to make sure we're on song when the opportunity arises.
"They are a pretty young team, but I think they've got some really talented players within their ranks. Sri Lanka seem to have the knack of being able to unveil some really exciting prospects. We're going to make sure we turn up and get the job done."
New Zealand have been encouraged by their surge through the back end of the Australia tour, where they were outclassed in Brisbane, but competed well in Perth and Adelaide. With the attack nearing its penetrative best, and the middle order also finding runs, McCullum said his team was well set up for the home summer.
"We were off the pace in that first Test match, but how quickly we were able to warm to our task during that series shows how good a cricket team we have here. It was frustrating that we weren't able to square the series in that last match, but it shows that the skillset and ability within this team - is capable of playing the best teams in the world away from home.
"There's different quirks and nuances of playing in New Zealand grounds, on these sorts of wickets, so we've got to make those adjustments. That's what we've discussed as a group: take the learnings from Australia and make sure that we're on song tactically and strategically."
Among New Zealand's finds from that Australia tour was 23-year-old allrounder Mitchell Santner. With James Neesham and Corey Anderson both out through injury, Santner will play his second Test in Dunedin. McCullum predicted a bright future for him.
"Mitchell's going to bat at six again, and he might have a vital job to do with the ball too," he said. 'He's an incredibly unflappable character for such a young guy, in terms of experience. He's really fitted into this team quickly. I'm sure that over the next couple of years, we'll see a guy who will develop into a world-class allrounder. It's good for us with Neesh and Corey under some injury clouds - he's going to get some opportunities over the next little while. When those guys are available for selection, we'll have a good problem."
McCullum also reiterated his support for umpire Nigel Llong, who will be officiating in this series. Llong had made two substantial errors, which put New Zealand at a disadvantage during the series in Australia.
"I'm 100% confident in Nigel Llong being involved in this series. I said it in Brisbane and I said it again after Adelaide - I think he's a world-class umpire who made a couple of mistakes. Everyone in this game is trying to do their best, and they're going to make occasional mistakes. Doesn't change the fact that they're good people and excellent umpires as well."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando