Mills confident of youngsters stepping up
Successive ODI series losses in Bangladesh might stretch the optimism of even the most seasoned international captain, but ahead of his first full series at the helm of a youthful side in Sri Lanka, Kyle Mills found cause for positivity in New Zealand's 0-3 result.
Leading the New Zealand team in the absence of Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, who have been ruled out by either injury or selectors' discretion, Mills said that individual performances from the previous series boded well for New Zealand, despite the net result in Bangladesh.
Mills had also been part of the New Zealand team that lost their last ODI series in Sri Lanka 0-3 - albeit in a series heavily affected by rain - but familiarity with subcontinent conditions and the enthusiasm among young players seeking international acclaim, will make New Zealand competitive in Sri Lanka, Mills said. Tearaway quick Adam Milne and allrounder James Neesham are among the young prospects who will attempt to establish themselves in the national team, while older players like Colin Munro and Anton Devcich will also be on trial.
"I think we have one of the most exciting cricket teams to leave New Zealand's shores," Mills said. "There are a number of young talents, and their names might not be familiar now, but in the two weeks, I'm sure some of the young guys will step up for us.
"Looking back on the Bangladesh series, even thought we went down, a number of guys stepped up. The guys who did step up were younger members within the group, and it's exciting to see young emerging members. It was nice to win the last game - the T20. There were almost 400 runs scored in that game and it was a bit of a thriller. To come out on top in that instilled a lot of confidence in the group."
Defusing Sri Lanka's spin bowlers will be key to New Zealand's prospects in the series, and in this too, the experience in Bangladesh would prove invaluable. Ajantha Mendis has in the past dominated batsmen who have not played him before, and in Sachithra Senanayake, Sri Lanka have a second spinner who possesses a variety of difficult variations.
"Between now and the series starting, there is going to be a bit of scouting going into what's going to come upon the top order in the next three games," Mills said. "But we've just been to Bangladesh, where there was a spin-oriented type of attack as well, so that helps. It's important to accumulate your ones and your twos off the spinners, to keep it rotating, and we've learned that thanks to a good diet of facing spin bowlers for the last wee while. The most important thing is to adapt as quickly as possible. Hopefully we can upskill on the Sri Lankan bowling between now and the first game."
Beyond recent experience in Bangladesh, several players in New Zealand's squad have also played in Sri Lanka in the last few months, during the A team's tour. Milne, Devcich, Munro, Corey Anderson, Tom Latham, Luke Ronchi and Andrew Ellis all played at least one match in Sri Lanka on the tour in September and October.
"It's nice that they came on that Sri Lankan tour and had some good, solid performances against that Sri Lankan A side," Mills said. "They've had a bit of practice time in the kind of conditions we're going to get over the coming two weeks. Those guys also played well in Bangladesh. We've been in the subcontinent for a while now, so the lads are acclimatised."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here