Conditions key as New Zealand look to surprise Sri Lanka
Match factsNovember 17-21, 2012
Start time 1000 local (0430 GMT)
Big PictureThe rains have relented slightly since the end of the ODI series, but during the monsoon that only means that the showers have been restricted to the afternoons in Galle. The teams will already feel they have seen more covers than the Bob Dylan back catalogue on this tour, but as November is still far from over, the weather is likely to remain a major factor during the first Test.
Sri Lanka will want nothing less than a 2-0 repeat of New Zealand's last Test tour, and their formula for victory in Galle has been a simple one over the years: bat first, bat big, and then let the spinners loose on one of the fastest-wearing Test surfaces anywhere. Each team has a slew of Test specialists arriving, and with Thilan Samaraweera and Prasanna Jayawardene bolstering Sri Lanka's middle order, New Zealand's bowlers will know they are no longer facing the "top heavy" batting unit they were up against in the limited-overs matches.
The hosts will also see this match as the first outing in the lead-up to their tour of Australia - their biggest Test assignment in a while. Given that they are unlikely to encounter anything like the Galle pitch there (at least, not until they reach Sydney for the final Test) this match will probably be less of a test of their technique, as it is an opportunity for Sri Lanka's Test side to build some momentum before they encounter the bouncier pitches at the P Sara Oval and beyond.
New Zealand meanwhile, will hope that the rain around will give their fast bowlers more to work with than a Galle surface would typically offer them. If this is the case, the toss will become less important, as the team batting first may have a difficult first session to negotiate. The evening rains might also freshen up the surface for each morning, and as fast bowling is the only area in which New Zealand outgun the hosts, the weather may give them the opportunity they need to cause an upset.
Their batsmen however, will need to show more mettle than they did in India, if they are to compete. Ross Taylor has spoken of Sri Lanka's attack as an obvious weakness, but they underestimate Rangana Herath at their peril, and 31 wickets to Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin in their last Test series suggests New Zealand are not as comfortable against spin as Taylor seems to believe.
Form guideSri Lanka: DDWLW (Most recent first)
New Zealand: LLLLD
Player to watchChanaka Welegedara has been out with injury since March this year, but he will want to re-establish himself as the pace-bowling spearhead in this series. His Test average remains above 40, but his returns in 2011 were more encouraging, and suggest that he is an improving cricketer. Sri Lanka need him to build into some form and have a good few months, if they are to compete in Australia.
Jeetan Patel had played only two Tests in two years before New Zealand's tour of India - a tour in which he performed creditably, particularly in the first Test. Thanks to Daniel Vettori's continued absence, he will again be New Zealand's frontline spinner, and with conditions likely to suit him later in the match, the visitors will look to him for breakthroughs. He will have to overcome the memory of a poor record in Sri Lanka though: in two matches there, he averages 55.6.
Teams newsTillakaratne Dilshan has not recovered from his back injury, which means left-hand batsman Dimuth Karunaratne has been brought into the squad, and will get a Test debut. Sri Lanka's major selection conundrum is who their second seam bowler will be. Nuwan Kulasekara had a decent return to Test cricket against Pakistan, but Shaminda Eranga seems the better long-term option for Sri Lanka, as he has both height and speed over Kulasekara, though he cannot swing the ball as prodigiously.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Tharanga Paranavitana, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilan Samaraweera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara/Shaminda Eranga, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Chanaka Welegedara
New Zealand also have decisions to make around their attack, having shipped five specialist Test bowlers in to join Tim Southee and Trent Boult, who played in the ODIs. They have uncapped legspinner Todd Astle in their ranks, but they will not hesitate to play to their strengths and name only one spinner in their XI if the pitch appears to offer anything for the seam bowlers. Among the quicks, Southee is an almost certain starter, meaning Neil Wagner, Chris Martin, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell will compete for the remaining two spots. Bracewell and Boult are the obvious frontrunners, but Martin provides experience on a potentially difficult pitch.
Martin Guptill returns to the team, after being rested for the ODIs.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Daniel Flynn, 6 James Franklin, 7 Kruger van Wyk (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Jeetan Patel, 11 Trent Boult/Chris Martin
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka have won 11 matches, lost four and drawn five in Galle
- Mahela Jayawardene has made over one fifth of his 10,540 runs in Galle, and averages 75.60 there
- New Zealand last won a Test in Sri Lanka in May 1998
Quotes"We don't have to contend with Muralitharan and it's always a nice thing to not have to contend with him. We've still got to play well ourselves and concentrate on what we can do well. But definitely their bowling line-up is an area we can target."
Ross Taylor on what he believes is a weakened Sri Lanka attack since New Zealand last played them in Tests
"It looks like this pitch will only become helpful for the spinners on the last two days. Until then, it should be a good surface and it should have something in it for the fast bowlers as well."
Mahela Jayawardene on how he expects this Galle pitch to play
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka