New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2013-14

Clouds loom over odd encounter

The return of cricket in Sri Lanka is enough to get fans interested, while a depleted New Zealand have points to prove - providing the rains hold off

Andrew Fidel Fernando

November 8, 2013

Comments: 16 | Text size: A | A

Angelo Mathews and Kyle Mills pose ahead of the one-day series, Colombo, November 8, 2013
Angelo Mathews and Kyle Mills will lead their respective sides in three ODIs © Getty Images
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It is a fortunate thing that, by this stage in 2013, Sri Lanka fans have developed a sense of humour as a means of coping with their team's schedule. Two Tests in the West Indies were canned to accommodate the IPL, in which Sri Lanka players almost universally bombed, then the biggest incoming Test tour in years, featuring No. 1-ranked South Africa, was postponed to accommodate an SLPL that flopped in an even more emphatic fashion - by failing to begin at all.

In the intervening months, the plight of the nation's highest-paid sportsmen was almost identical to the fate of so many of Colombo's street cricketers, who have to play matches amongst themselves when no opposition turns up. Now, finally, there is some cricket in touching distance. Depleted opposition, maybe, and battered, but who cares? Real flesh-and-blood international cricketers from New Zealand have arrived in the country.

But, oh dear, so has the northeast monsoon.

You would think by now, Sri Lanka's rains would have learnt to work around the cricket patterns in the country. This tour was scheduled all the way back in 2008 but the depressions rolling in from the Bay of Bengal have refused compromise and rebuffed basic sense. Surely they are aware that, year after year, Sri Lanka Cricket will host international series in October and November. To be fair to the board, it is difficult to negotiate a happy outcome when such imprudence abounds.

Not that New Zealand will mind so much. This is not a tour that would stoke particular excitement at home, ahead of the summer, and New Zealand's selectors suggested as much when they pulled their two best batsmen, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, out of the series. Kane Williamson, who was supposed to lead in their stead has also since been ruled out, leaving Kyle Mills with a job he admits he did not expect.

After New Zealand were embarrassed in Bangladesh, Mills' first task will be to inspire a team that may be less than excited at the prospect of another subcontinental ODI series. But, at least on the subject of watching Sri Lankan storms blow through, he can be sure to provide robust leadership and valuable insight: he is a veteran of last November's plentifully moist limited-overs campaign.

New Zealand will hope, though, that apathy will be overcome by the will of young men out to prove themselves. Allrounder James Neesham has an opportunity to embed himself in the ODI team, after his two outings in Dhaka brought him eight wickets. If he can reclaim his batting form from the recent Champions League as well, he may show himself to be the kind of player New Zealand have lacked since Jacob Oram's exceptional early years. Batsmen Colin Munro, Anton Devcich and tearaway fast bowler Adam Milne are also on trial, while Grant Elliott and Neil Broome seek to re-establish themselves in positions they once held.

The sum of all this ambition seems less likely to topple the hosts than if New Zealand had fielded a full-strength side, but if Hambantota serves up more pace-friendly pitches, as it often tends to, the tourists will be buoyed by the memory of their last ODI at the venue, where they had Sri Lanka 123 for 8 before the heavens opened up.

Despite the possibility of rain and the relative inexperience of the opposition, however, Sri Lanka's cricketers appear genuinely excited at the prospect of finally playing internationals, as do many fans. Mahela Jayawardene, who has hit form in the two practice matches in Colombo, even went as far as tweeting a picture of the back of Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis' heads, with the caption, "In bus off to Hambantota! Great to be on tour again". It is probably safe to say this is the most thrilled anyone outside the Sri Lankan government has ever been about going to Hambantota.

The hosts' game plan will likely revolve around their spin attack, as it did when South Africa toured in July. In that series, Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake flummoxed an inexperienced top order, while either Rangana Herath or Tillakaratne Dilshan provided steady support. Angelo Mathews has been averse to experiments and speculative calls so far during his tenure, and is unlikely to depart from such an effective blueprint.

The onus to assure fans that a future without the seniors is not so bleak is again on middle-order men Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne, but the most interesting subplot in the side will be Dimuth Karunaratne's race with Kusal Perera for one opener's slot. Perera has shown signs of form in the past weeks but none so emphatic as Karunaratne, who outscored him in the practice matches, as well as in List A and first-class cricket in recent months.

If the weather, incredibly, stays away, New Zealand's youth will need to discover the spark that eluded the team in Bangladesh to avoid another one-sided series, rusty as Sri Lanka might be. Neither team has momentum going in and, if nothing else, the manner in which they seek to overcome inertia ahead of full tours will at least make interesting viewing.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Udendra on (November 12, 2013, 4:24 GMT)

This happened last year as well. The matches should have been rescheduled.

Posted by   on (November 11, 2013, 8:42 GMT)

@ThinkingCricket , I was thinking a great article until I saw your take on the article. You are right. If anything, they should be inspiring even the low rated games.

Posted by ThinkingCricket on (November 10, 2013, 7:14 GMT)

I don't want to sound rude, but I just don't understand this site. In my entire life, this is the only site I've seen which consistently tries to undermine and downplay the importance of it's own product- the matches it covers.

Australia v India: Lacking context, India v West Indies: Created only for Sachin, Bangladesh v New Zealand: Unimportant minnows, Srilanka vs NewZealand: "Why does Jayawardene care? Doesn't he know he's supposed to be bored with ODI's?"

It's all very well written, but why are you so intent on undermining the games you are covering?

Posted by yohandf on (November 10, 2013, 5:12 GMT)

@ Herath-UK - Constructing international ground in hamlet is not a bad idea for a relatively rich nation . but constructing a ground in hambantota under sheer political influence resulted SLC being bankrupted . If we could develop Galle CG with floodlights , it would have atracted public instead of matches in Hambantota where majority of seats without bums on it . Or else gates will be opened to cover the shame .The world cup and T20 world cup matches are the only ones we had substantial crowd here almost all visited from other towns . It s a white elephant . Adrew , you are spot on ,

Posted by SUPER_SIX on (November 9, 2013, 19:02 GMT)

@Ranil Herath-You will agree with Andrew after your visit to Hambanthota.

Posted by Herath-UK on (November 9, 2013, 10:44 GMT)

Well Andrew,I do not know the colour of your blazer but for one I'm too excited to visit Hambantota , a hamlet not so long ago, to see its rapid progress to an international modern town at the very next chance I get. Ranil Herath - Kent

Posted by trav696 on (November 9, 2013, 8:24 GMT)

@bladerunners_daddy, sorry mate but who are you calling a minnow in cricket; Sri Lanka??? You must be joking because that is a stupid statement to say the least. Sri Lanka are doing quite well considering they barely play any test cricket and most ODI's are played at home. Sri Lanka can challenge any side in ODI's and T20's. Do not forget that SL are ranked No. 1 in T20's and No. 4 in ODI's. The only think you can criticise about SL is that they need to get their act together in Test cricket, but other than that, don't comment. Just think about what you write before you embarrass yourself...

Posted by Advanced_Donkeys on (November 9, 2013, 8:22 GMT)

@bladerunners_daddy : We will definitely comment after the tournament my friend.

Posted by Nmiduna on (November 9, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

Andrew seems soo bored by this series and so displeased about our playing schedule that he decided to have a dig at...well hambanthota! nice one :)

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Tour Results
Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Pallekele - Nov 21, 2013
Sri Lanka won by 8 wickets (with 13 balls remaining)
Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Pallekele - Nov 19, 2013
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Dambulla - Nov 16, 2013
Sri Lanka won by 36 runs (D/L method)
Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Hambantota - Nov 12, 2013
New Zealand won by 4 wickets (with 0 balls remaining) (D/L method)
Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Hambantota - Nov 10, 2013
No result
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