Young Sri Lanka's riposte set to continue
Saturday, January 2, 2016
Start time 1100 local (2200 GMT)
It took four weeks, but Sri Lanka put together their most comprehensive day of cricket on this tour and suddenly their outlook seems transformed. They lost so badly in Christchurch that this trip to New Zealand was threatening to become the tour from hell. In that handsome Nelson win on Thursday, there were signs it may instead be remembered as a journey of discovery.
Chief among the promising new talents is Dushmantha Chameera, who was the third-change bowler when the tour began, but is now taking the new ball. He is not as fast as Adam Milne, but so far seems to have a better knack for taking wickets. Maybe he bowls the bouncer too much and the yorker not enough, but the coaches say he is eager to learn. Angelo Mathews also helped by using him as a strike bowler in the middle overs of the third ODI, instead of saving him for the death.
Legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay troubled batsmen on a track that didn't give him much turn, and Danushka Gunathilaka was poised and powerful at the top of the order. New Zealand will be wise to their weaknesses in their coming matches, however, and the young Sri Lanka players will want to prove they can't be easily decoded.
New Zealand have lost Tim Southee for the remainder of the series, but such is the depth in their bowling that the man replacing him is the bowler of the series so far. Matt Henry's bustle ruined Sri Lanka's innings in Christchurch. A slower, lower Nelson surface may draw some of his venom, but Sri Lanka's batsmen would still probably have preferred it if he had remained outside the squad.
Thursday's match was also the first occasion in which the hosts seemed a little vulnerable. The middle order doesn't look in great shape with Ross Taylor and Luke Ronchi still searching for good scores. Mitchell Santner is promising, but perhaps he's not quite ready to be the top spin option.
With Kane Williamson, Tom Latham, Martin Guptill and Henry all still playing well, New Zealand have more than enough quality to lock the series up. But they will now have to win on a used Saxton Oval surface that was beginning to resemble the slower, abrasive tracks Sri Lanka often find in their part of the world.
(last five matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: LWWLW
Sri Lanka: WLLWW
In the spotlight
Doug Bracewell hasn't been New Zealand's most penetrative bowler, but he has made himself useful with the bat. He has contributed a good score every time he has come to the crease on this tour. Bracewell's sober 30 from 34 balls on Thursday helped push New Zealand towards 275, after they had threatened to be all out for less than 250. He has been good in the field as well, though that hasn't always been a strength for him.
Aside from one very expensive over to Martin Guptill in the second game, Jeffrey Vandersay's introduction to international cricket has so far been smooth. His legbreaks aren't the most controlled, or biggest-turning, but he appears to be the kind of bowler that likes to outthink batsmen, if he can't out-skill them. Sri Lanka are facing a minor spin-bowling crisis, as Rangana Herath moves into the twilight of his career. Having picked Vandersay over two more experienced spinners on Thursday, the selectors may feel he is the man to step into Herath's shoes.
As the pitch is expected to take more turn in this game, there is a chance Sri Lanka may add a second frontline spinner to the attack. More likely they will keep the same XI and rely on Milinda Siriwardana's left-arm spin, and Tillakaratne Dilshan's part-time offbreaks.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Danushka Gunathilaka , 3 Lahiru Thirimanne, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Chamara Kapugedara, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Jeffrey Vandersay, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
New Zealand may be without their regular captain Brendon McCullum again, as he recovers from a back injury. If he does return, Tom Latham may be the man to make way. Legspinner Ish Sodhi is likely to play in place of one of the seamers.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Brendon McCullum (capt.)/ Tom Latham, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Mitchell Santner, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Adam Milne, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Ish Sodhi
Pitch and conditions
The strip had begun to take good turn towards the end of the third ODI, and will probably become lower, slower and more given to spin still. Sunny Nelson may belie its moniker however, as showers are forecast throughout the day.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand played Sri Lanka in 11 ODIs in 2015. Sri Lanka won only three of those games.
- With Martin Guptill (1489 runs), Kane Williamson (1376 runs), and Tillakaratne Dilshan (1207 runs), this series features each of the top three ODI run-scorers of 2015.
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Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando