NZ v SL, 1st Test, Dunedin, 1st day December 10, 2015

Respect thy opponent, to all parts

After three undefeated seasons at home, New Zealand's mode of operation is clear: talk up the visiting teams and then set about traumatising them
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New Zealand hit 60 boundaries on the first day of the Dunedin Test, and advanced at a run rate of 4.53 © Getty Images

Prior to this match Brendon McCullum spent almost as much time complimenting the opposition as he did endorsing his own, recently-defeated team. New Zealand are familiar with Rangana Herath's calibre, of course, but McCullum made particular mention of Sri Lanka's "world-class" batsmen, and their "underrated" seam attack. "They've gone through a lot of changes," McCullum surmised. "But we're respectful of the challenge these guys will put to us."

These are interesting comments to have made in light of his own innings, and New Zealand's general progress, on day one.

In a 57-ball knock that sent the hosts hurtling past 300, McCullum respected Sri Lanka to all parts of University Oval. He began by respecting Nuwan Pradeep for three consecutive fours after just 11 previous balls at the crease, then, later on, raced at Sri Lanka's quickest bowler to launch him high over cover for a six forged from deep, abiding, money-can't-buy respect.

Overall, 60 Sri Lanka deliveries were hit to the boundary in the day. New Zealand advanced at a run rate of 4.53. And all batsmen who crossed 25 had a strike rate of 65 - the captain's was 131.

McCullum's comments were probably meant in earnest, because on the surface at least, New Zealand have made a point of treating opponents well over the last two years. It is part of the reason they have begun to be so admired across the world. But now touring the country for the second time in 12 months, Sri Lanka may feel they have just about had it. They may be sick to death of McCullum's particular brand of respect.

It had been the same when they were here last year. That series had also been preceded by glowing appraisals as several New Zealand players invoked Sri Lanka's recent Test series win in England. When Kumar Sangakkara struck a double-hundred at the Basin Reserve in January, the hosts spoke so effusively about the batsman it sounded like they all wanted to take turns cuddling him. Then on the field, New Zealand took catches that verged on the supernatural, hit rapid, monumental innings, and swung the ball viciously in both directions, and judging by the reactions of the batsmen, through undiscovered spatial planes.

After three undefeated seasons at home now, this seems to be New Zealand's mode of operation in the country. They talk up the visiting teams, then set about traumatising them.

Things just appear to start clicking for them on home soil. McCullum's 71 was a sort of return to runs, after an Australia series in which he averaged 27.4. He wasn't the only batsman to regain confidence on Thursday. Martin Guptill had had an even worse tour across the Tasman, but was at ease almost from the outset in Dunedin. He began with a series of serene drives on a green-tinged surface, then moved to more bruising square blows. When he was finally caught behind in the 85th over, he had 156 from 234 deliveries.

At times it felt like this whole Test-match day was staged just to get Guptill back into form. Virtually everyone on the field was complicit in his twin lbw escapes on 78. Bowler Dushmantha Chameera was half-hearted in appeal when Guptill was first struck in line, in the 38th over. The umpire quickly turned that appeal down, then shook his head at another shout next over. Sri Lanka should have reviewed that second decision, but it was Guptill and New Zealand's day. Angelo Mathews, in consultation with the bowler and fielders behind the wicket, opted not to pursue it. The hosts' second-wicket partnership would grow to 173.

Chameera bowled with good pace - at times reaching 146 kph - but didn't get his first wicket until the second new ball was nearly due. By then New Zealand's total was already more than 350. Sri Lanka claimed five wickets for 65 in a 14-over stretch towards stumps, but with the inexperience in their top order on this tour, New Zealand's 409 for 8 already feels like 60 runs too many.

What's more, even the pitch appeared to be colluding with the home team. There wasn't a lot of bounce in the morning session, but plenty of zip was visible towards the close. "Towards the end of the day, when the pitch was drying out, the ball started doing funny things," Guptill said. "So that's good signs for us when we start bowling."

Sri Lanka will hope that despite a tough first day, this tour ends more happily than their last visit to this corner of the world. On that occasion New Zealand mauled Sri Lanka in the Tests, then dragged their carcass around the country during the ODI series, all the while suggesting the visitors were a dangerous side.

New Zealand are widely described as the nice guys of world cricket. It's just that on days like this, Sri Lanka may wish they were off being nice to someone bloody else.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Khan Shahib Tahsin on December 11, 2015, 0:30 GMT

    @MCSDL NZ did very well in England recently. Looks like yiu have a short memory.

  • Angus on December 11, 2015, 0:02 GMT

    @ MCSDL, steady on pal! You're quick to dismiss NZ's record overseas yet so keen to trumpet SLs. I suggest you check your facts. Up until Oz, NZ had toured England, UAE, West Indies and Bangladesh without losing a series, going back to 2013. A better than average record given as you say, "how poor every team is when playing away...". It's certainly better than "this over-hyped current Kiwi squad has not done anything outside their own backyard." But don't let facts get in the way of your beliefs.

  • AllIndia on December 10, 2015, 23:51 GMT

    SL will be battered and bruised for years to come. The lack of talent and money is apparent. Without pittance from India, it is going to be a tough long lonely walk for SL.

  •   Akashdeep Singh on December 10, 2015, 20:42 GMT

    If winning away from home is a criteria worthy of discussion, an esteemed observer below needs to be reminded that sri lanka just lost to India in a test series at home, i.e, an AWAY victory for the Indian team. A cricket team cannot get better by pointing at everyone else's abject performance overseas. Yes, it is tough playing in different conditions, but you can only improve if you take it on as a challenge, not cow down to it as an excuse. As a long timel fan of cricket, what one wants to see is a "tough fight" in the middle, not an abject surrender to the conditions. Hope this test match shows that brand of cricket. Good luck to both teams.

  •   Sushreyo Misra on December 10, 2015, 20:41 GMT

    Loved the dry humour in the article... New Zealand just work like magic playing at home. They almost seem to know exactly how to optimise the use of the oddly shaped grounds, pitches and weather conditions!!

  • Jason on December 10, 2015, 17:47 GMT

    Can we have two tiers of test cricket with promotion and relegation. Four teams in the top tier and the remaining test teams in the second tier.

  • Chris on December 10, 2015, 17:46 GMT

    Why is it "thy" opponent?

  • robin on December 10, 2015, 17:06 GMT

    Funny! Well played Fernando.

  • marino on December 10, 2015, 17:05 GMT

    Steady on Andrew..! Over the years Sri Lanka been a better team than the Kiwis. Okay Kiwis have over the sudden become a decent team at HOME. Kiwis shouldn't deserve the credit they get as even this over-hyped current Kiwi squad has not done anything outside their own backyard. You must applaud Sri Lanka for taking the challenge of touring New zealand twice in 12 months to play in unfamiliar conditions instead of comparing them to nobodies..! Sri Lanka is also a great team at home and atleast they are making small strides away from home unlike most other teams. Remember that Sri Lanka beat England in English conditions recently. Teams like India lost all their games in England and Australia and Kiwis didn't win a game in Australia either. South Africa lost 3-0 in India and England couldn't win a single game against Pakistan in UAE, neither could Aussies. So instead of looking down on Sri Lankan team you should look at how poor every team is when playing away from their comfort zone..!

  • Navin on December 10, 2015, 15:48 GMT

    SL are great fighters but this NZ team is very good and will probably win test matches easily. SL team is also not settled yet after loss of their star players. NZ has some world class players.

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