Aggressive batting recipe to win - Taylor
If there is a ready criticism of New Zealand's present Test side, it is that their batsmen lack the patience and application necessary to flourish in the longest format of the game. Often in the recent past, their batsmen have squandered starts with loose strokes, and have failed to consolidate partnerships, perishing in pursuit of quick runs. At times, they have batted out tough spells, only to throw their wickets away to deliveries that didn't deserve to end their innings.
But New Zealand captain Ross Taylor said aggressive batting will see New Zealand triumph against Sri Lanka, in the two-Test series which begins in Galle on Saturday. New Zealand have not won a Test in Sri Lanka in over 14 years, and Taylor said his side's hopes of ending that run, and snapping a four-Test losing streak, will be enhanced by a batting strategy focused on attack - particularly against spin.
New Zealand lost both Tests in India in August-September, and were largely derailed on that tour by spinners R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, who shared 31 wickets between them. In the first Test in Hyderabad, Ashwin and Ojha took all but two of New Zealand's wickets, as the visitors lost by an innings and 115 runs. However, New Zealand's batsmen did recover from the loss, posting 365 in the first innings of the second Test in Bangalore, and Taylor credited a more positive approach for the improved performance.
"We've got an opportunity to create some history," Taylor said. "I think the way we played the last Test in India, the way we attacked spin is going to be crucial in this next match. A lot of teams think that's a weakness of ours and if we show that's a strength of ours and play positive and aggressive cricket to their spinners that bodes well for our batsmen. Hopefully we can string a few more partnerships together and instead of scoring 300-350, push that out to 400 and put pressure on the opposition."
Last time New Zealand toured Sri Lanka, Muttiah Muralitharan was their primary tormentor, taking 13 wickets in two Tests. The first Test of that tour was also played in Galle, where New Zealand lost by 202 runs, before losing at the SSC by 96. But with Muralitharan having retired, Taylor said Sri Lanka's present attack held no terrors for New Zealand.
"We don't have to contend with Muralitharan which is always a nice thing. 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.
"Last time we played here I don't think there was a lot of spin. There was spin, but not excessive spin. Sri Lanka are probably going to go in with two spinners and the way we play them is going to be crucial."
The tour has so far been plagued by rain due to the northeast monsoon, and Taylor said the weather may produce a more seamer-friendly track for the first Test than would otherwise have been provided. Swing and seam was evident in each of the limited-overs matches that had some play, and fast bowlers from both sides generated considerable movement on the pitches in Pallekele and Hambantota.
"The new ball will be crucial and putting the ball in the right area and asking questions ... England were just out here recently and their seamers had a lot of success. It's not all about spin in this country. The weather conditions might play their part and not necessarily just on day one. As we saw in the one-day series, once it did rain, the wicket did juice up a bit and that might play into our hands. For as long as we've been here in Galle, it's rained every day so far in the afternoon, and we'll have to factor that into our preparations and into the match."
New Zealand have five fast bowlers and two spinners to choose their attack from, having brought in Chris Martin, Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner, Jeetan Patel and Todd Astle as Test specialists, to join Tim Southee and Trent Boult who were in Sri Lanka for the ODI series. Taylor said it was encouraging to see competition for places among the bowlers, but said the final makeup of the XI for the first Test had not yet been decided.
"We've got guys like Doug Bracewell, who has been our most consistent Test bowler in the last year, coming in. Hopefully whoever gets an opportunity can perform. It's generally a pretty good wicket that can deteriorate on day three, four and five and the overhead conditions will play a part, and that will affect the balance of our side - whether we go in with three quicks or two spinners."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka