Malinga-less SL hope to turn tables on depleted NZ
December 26, 2015
Start time 1100 local (2200 GMT)
In eight ODIs against Sri Lanka in the past 12 months, New Zealand have won six times. Since the teams' most recent encounter - in the opening match of the World Cup - Sri Lanka have lost two of their best ever batsmen, and in this series, they will also be without Lasith Malinga, who remains in Sri Lanka nursing an injured knee. It is fair to say that in these conditions, New Zealand appear a far stronger team on paper.
The visitors will be relieved though, that New Zealand are also somewhat depleted, for the first two matches at least. Corey Anderson, James Neesham and Grant Elliott are all unavailable through injury, depriving the hosts of that balance-giving seam option, as well as batting firepower. Tim Southee will also be rested for the first two ODIs, and Trent Boult for the first three.
There is a little more experience in Sri Lanka's ODI outfit than there was in the Tests. Tillakaratne Dilshan still contributes heavily from the top order, and though he has lost some of his swing, Nuwan Kulasekara might at least provide some reliable control. Lahiru Thirimanne - who has been good in ODIs despite his Test woes - also returns to the side.
New Zealand's other slight concern may be that they have not played ODIs since August, and that their form has dipped since their run to the World Cup final. But while Sri Lanka have had a steadier calendar, their only ODI series win in 2015 came against West Indies at home.
(last five matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: LWLWW
Sri Lanka: WWWWL
In the spotlight
Luke Ronchi struck a devastating 170 not out against Sri Lanka in Dunedin in January, but has not crossed fifty in 17 completed innings since. This is partly because of his batting position, but there was also a bleak run of scores through the middle of the year. Ronchi has single-figure scores from 11 of his last 13 innings. He will want some substantial contributions in this series in order to safeguard his place.
Younger men have taken their leave, but at 39-years-of age, Tillakaratne Dilshan presses on. He is more of an accumulator than a dasher now, though every now-and-then he will do something spectacular, like hitting Mitchell Johnson for six fours in an over during the World Cup. In what has been a lean ODI year for the team, Dilshan has hit 1100 runs at an average of 55. With Kusal Perera unavailable to partner him, plenty of Sri Lanka's hopes this series will pivot on the quality of the starts Dilshan gives them.
Sri Lanka's XI is difficult to predict, with so much upheaval around the team at present. Thisara Perera's bowling form appears to be good, if his BPL results are anything to go by. They may consider him at No.7. Lahiru Thirimanne is likely to open in Kusal Perera's stead, with Danushka Gunathilaka the probable No.3.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Danushka Gunathilaka , 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Kane Williamson's knee niggle, which was sustained during the Test series, may keep him out of the first ODI. Henry Nicholls could be considered for a debut appearance in his home town. New Zealand have four quicks in the squad, but one may have to miss out - perhaps Matt Henry.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Brendon McCullum (capt.), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls/George Worker, 6 Mitchell Santner, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Adam Milne, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Mitchell McClenaghan
Pitch and conditions
The weather is expected to be somewhat cloudy, but dry, with temperatures expected to hover in the low-20-degrees range. Hagley Oval was the scene of four scores over 300 during the World Cup, so a good batting track is expected.
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka have played New Zealand twice at Hagley Oval. The hosts won comfortably on both occasions.
- Kane Williamson is the year's top ODI run-scorer with 1317 runs at an average of 57.26. Martin Guptill is second on that list with 1287 runs, and Dilshan is fourth.
- Brendon McCullum needs 91 runs to reach 6000 in his career.
"Nicholls is certainly in the mix when you look at our line-up. I don't think there's any better place to make your debut than at home. He's played a lot of cricket here. It would probably ease the tension a little bit when you know you're on a ground that you've played well at before."
New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan on Nicholl's chances of playing
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando