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September 1, 2009
The last time these two teams met in a Twenty20 international, an Ajantha Mendis-inspired Sri Lanka knocked New Zealand over to move into the final four of the ICC World Twenty20. Leading into the first of two Twenty20s at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, neither Kumar Sangakkara nor Daniel Vettori was overly concerned about that match.
For starters, New Zealand have a few key players fit, who were missing from that match, as well as the added power of Shane Bond, while Sri Lanka will be without Muttiah Muralitharan. "There are a few things there. Jesse Ryder comes back and the top four pick themselves," Vettori said. "We realise that Sri Lanka's real strength is in their top order and we have to get through that to put the middle under pressure.
The absence of Murali, due to a groin strain, was also welcome news to Vettori, who found out during the press conference ahead of New Zealand's training. "Well, it just gets better then. That makes it easier because he's a quality bowler so those are the differences between the last game. Sri Lanka had a fantastic World Twenty20 and we know how strong a team they can be. For our guys, having faced [Ajantha] Mendis in the Test series will give them confidence. "
Sangakkara was all too aware that Twenty20 can be a bit of a lottery. "Twenty20 differs from day to day, conditions to conditions, but strategy plays a big part," he said. "Little bits, three or four five-over blocks can change a game. We're confident but also wary because New Zealand are a good unit when it comes to the shorter formats of the game."
After no results on tour so far, it's understandable that New Zealand would be desperate to slip into a new format with hopes of notching up a result. While they haven't been comfortable in Test cricket this year, it might be stretching it to say they're more comfortable in Twenty20. New Zealand have not proven a very good Twenty20 side, as 10 wins in 26 tries indicate, three of which came over Kenya, Scotland and Ireland.
New Zealand's line-up won't look entirely different to those who watched them in action - or out of it, as the case may be - in the Tests, because eight of that squad are expected to play a part. At least six from the Tests will fit in tomorrow, and Vettori was hopeful the new players could help enthuse a new vibe into the lot that has been here for a while.
"When you've been through a tough tour it's always nice to have a few fresh faces because they are confident and bring that to the team. Hopefully we can take a little bit of that," he said. "The newer guys have been here a little while and in Chennai working hard [with the A team] and they've got a feel for the conditions. The guys are a lot more confident and understand it a lot better. They'll call on that and hopefully switch from where we were in the Test matches."
Sri Lanka too have fresh faces coming in for the Twenty20s, though as Sangakkara was quick to point out, they aren't all new players. "We've got Isuru Udana coming in, who was very impressive in the World Twenty20. Malinga Bandara has been around for ages. He made his Test debut in 1997-98 against New Zealand. Kaushal Lokuarachichi has played one-day cricket in the past. Farveez Maharoof is back. Gihan Rupasinghe is the only young raw player. He's a very talented striker of the ball."
Speaking of talented strikers, after a disappointing Test series, Brendon McCullum owes Vettori some runs. "He's looking forward to it as he's done well for us in the past, look back to the India series where he won us a couple games," Vettori said. "He'll be calling on that form and wanting to turn a few things around."
The toss has been an important factor at the Premadasa. The last 12 times a team won the toss and batted they've won. Vettori didn't want to put everything into the flip of a coin, but Sangakkara was wary of the Premadasa's record. "Hopefully the toss won't be a factor tomorrow, but it's something you cannot control," he said. "Sides batting second are at a disadvantage and it's a challenge [to try and neutralise the toss factor] and you have to try and change history, relish it, change the odds."
Vettori was also aware of the reputation of the swinging ball at night at this venue. "That can dictate the make-up of your team as well, so if we win the toss we'll look to bat and put a decent score up to put pressure on the Sri Lankan top order," he said. "That's how teams have won here on a number of occasions."
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