Chance for fringe players to book World T20 berths
January 7, 2016
Start time 1500 local (0200 GMT)
It might be tempting to view the two games in this series as a sort of first glimpse at each team's form ahead of the World T20. Will Sri Lanka have the attack of the tournament again? How will New Zealand compensate for the Brendon McCullum-shaped hole in their top order? But the thing with T20s, we are often told, is that matches can sometimes be defined by just "one big over". Two months out, there is not much to be learned, particularly outside Asian conditions.
Premature though team assessments would be, the series could be crucial for the fringe players hoping to make that 15-man squad to be named next month. Sri Lanka had filled their side with youngsters and panned for T20 gold last year - with legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay among the better talents they unearthed. New Zealand coach Mike Hesson, meanwhile, has said that he and the selectors have about 17 players in mind for the World T20. These games may help trim two men from that list.
Among those on the cusp of the World T20 side may be Colin Munro, whose late salvos have sometimes raised New Zealand without quite cementing his place in the XI, and fast bowler Matt Henry, whose situation may be described as: "How many top orders does a guy have to embarrass to get some kudos around here?"
Sri Lanka's squad is full of hopefuls as well. There's Danushka Gunathilaka, who will know he can't live on just one good ODI innings. There's Chamara Kapugedera, on a quest for redemption. And Isuru Udana, who will want to prove he is more than just a slower-ball machine.
Both Angelo Mathews and Kane Williamson admitted to misreading the Mount Maunganui surface. It was both slower, and more given to turn than Mathews, in particular, had expected. It is not quite Delhi, but spin may play a pivotal role nonetheless.
New Zealand: WLWLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LWLLW
In the spotlight
Kane Williamson is seemingly destined to conquer batting, but how will he be as a captain? He is as likeable a current cricketer as exists in the world, and his team-mates seem to adore him. But he is reserved and soft spoken, which means he is a significant departure from McCullum's style of leadership. An astute tactician with blade in hand, it is now his job to strategise for the whole team. Great players have not historically made great leaders, but then, Williamson's ego has never been as awesome as his talent.
Dumped from the T20 captaincy during 2014's World T20 (though the official line still is that he stepped down), Dinesh Chandimal finds himself leading the team again. He is a different man now. Caught in a petty political game at the time, Chandimal has set himself and his batting free over the past 18 months. He has at times seemed a natural leader, but it remains to be seen how his own batting fares under the strain of responsibility. Chandimal is only the acting captain while Lasith Malinga recovers from a knee problem. As Malinga's career is increasingly beset by injury though, this may be an audition of sorts for Chandimal.
Having taken 13 wickets from three ODIs, surely Matt Henry has done enough to earn a place in the T20 XI. With 13 squad members to choose from, New Zealand are likely to omit one quick and one batsman. Mitchell McClenaghan and Grant Elliott may be the men to miss out. Corey Anderson will likely play - but as a specialist batsman only, as he continues to recover from a back injury. Williamson could move up to open in McCullum's absence.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Kane Williamson (capt), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Ross Taylor, 4 Corey Anderson, 5 Colin Munro, 6 Mitchell Santner, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Adam Milne, 9 Trent Boult, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Ish Sodhi
Sri Lanka may bank on spin, as they often do in this format, meaning Sachithra Senanayake and Jeffrey Vandersay could both play. They also have a penchant for allrounders, so Thisara Perera may play ahead of batsmen such as Kithuruwan Vithanage.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Danushka Gunathilaka , 3 Dinesh Chandimal (capt & wk), 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Milinda Siriwardana, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Jeffrey Vandersay
Pitch and conditions
The strip had just begun to take good turn towards the end of the ODI game. Conditions are expected to be cloudy, but dry, with temperatures in the high teens.
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka remain the top-ranked T20 side in the world, but have lost three of the five T20s they played since their 2014 World T20 triumph
- Tillakaratne Dilshan is the second on the T20 internationals run-scorer's list with 1590 runs, but is still 550 behind the leader, Brendon McCullum
- Corey Anderson has not played a T20 since December 2014, but has been in good list A form, hitting 88 and 98 for Northern Districts in the past eight days
"It has been nice to contribute for Northern Districts. Being a specialist batter at the moment, I've got to get runs. It has been nice to go back to a domestic scene and prove a point."
Corey Anderson on having just one discipline to contribute in, for the moment
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando