'Win series first, blood youth later' - Mathews
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said his team would aim to secure the three-match ODI series against a depleted New Zealand before entertaining the prospect of blooding young players, despite his team's continuing quest for regeneration.
One of the senior batsmen had been rested for each match of the most recent Twenty20 series against South Africa, in order to free a space up for a young player, but Mathews quelled notions a similar strategy would be employed against New Zealand. Uncapped middle-order batsman Ashan Priyanjan and developing medium-pace bowler Suranga Lakmal have both been named in Sri Lanka's squad for the first two ODIs.
"The youngsters are good fighters, and they may have a chance, but the main thing is that we win this thee match series. The current squad of 16 has only been selected for the first two matches to in Hambantota. If we win the series, then of course we can think about giving an opportunity to the youngsters."
The series is Sri Lanka's first' top-level assignment since South Africa departed in early August, but Mathews was confident his side would not show signs of rust, given their industry during the international hiatus. Sri Lanka's top players took part in a four-day first-class triangular series in October, and also had two practice matches against a Sri Lanka A team ahead of New Zealand's arrival.
The long gap in international cricket had been brought about by postponements to home Tests against South Africa and an away tour to Zimbabwe.
"It's unfortunate to miss the Zimbabwe series but we had some good matches here and it was a good two months to refresh for us. We had a lot of strength training, in addition to preparing specifically for this tour, so I think we're in good shape."
Mathews expressed disappointment at the prospect of playing a New Zealand team without their of their best batsmen, one of whom captains the team, but insisted that there would be no dip in intensity from his side. Earlier this week Sri Lanka chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya had also voiced his dismay at New Zealand's choice to withdraw Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor from the series, before Kane Williamson was also injured.
"We aren't just playing against individual players, we're playing against the New Zealand team, so we're not going to be complacent no matter what the opposition is doing," Mathews said. "This is a very important series for us, partly because it gives us a chance to tune up ahead of the Pakistan tour as well. We're disappointed that a few of their best players aren't here, but as they proved when they beat us in a nailbiter in Cardiff this year, they're still a very good team and we can't take them lightly."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here