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The flak surrounding Lee Germon's sacking as New Zealand captain quickly disappeared in the wake of the team's successes against Sri Lanka in March 1997. Under Germon's Canterbury colleague, Stephen Fleming, New Zealand recovered from a disappointing series against England to beat Sri Lanka in both Tests, and squared the one-day internationals 1-1.
Germon had been dismissed a couple of hours after New Zealand beat England in their final one-day international. He had no idea of his fate when he spoke of the forthcoming Sri Lankan series at the closing ceremony, leading to allegations of plots and poor communication. But Germon had come under mounting pressure through the summer and, when he was injured just before the last Test against England, Fleming demonstrated a refreshing attitude and inventiveness as his stand-in. Though he lost, the selectors and coach Steve Rixon took notice and gave him the job full-time against Sri Lanka.
As one of New Zealand's best batsmen, Fleming commanded instant respect within the team and could hardly have dared ask for a better start, with two wins in his first three Tests at the helm - Germon won only one of his 12 Tests, and lost five. Fleming had been looked on as a future Test captain since he scored 92 on debut against India, just before his 21st birthday. When he was officially elevated, aged 23, he had already played 25 Tests and 60 one-day internationals (Germon had taken over in his debut Test, after one limited-overs game) and he talked confidently about a ten-year reign.
Fleming was lucky to be starting out against Sri Lanka. Though they had won their last two series against New Zealand, who had not beaten them in a Test since 1983-84, they were lacking recent hard matchplay. Rain hampered their preparations, washing out their only first-class warm-up match. They also gave the impression that they had no particular appetite for Test cricket, preferring the shorter game in which they had done so well. This view was backed up by their new coach, Australian Bruce Yardley. Yardley had some way to go to fulfil the Sri Lankan board's dream of making their team the leading Test power by 2000.
Sri Lanka missed the experience and stability of Asanka Gurusinha, who withdrew after being ordered to return from his club in Melbourne for training. Batting hero Aravinda de Silva had damaged his ankle during a brilliant stint for Auckland in New Zealand's limited-overs Shell Cup, and struggled on his return; he never reached double figures in the Tests.
The tourists introduced a promising newcomer in tall left-arm seamer Nuwan Zoysa, aged 18, who could obtain sharp bounce and move the ball into and away from the right-hander. Zoysa had been playing school matches a few months earlier when captain Arjuna Ranatunga spotted him. Yardley likened him to Bruce Reid, his former Western Australian team-mate, but there was also a similarity to Wasim Akram. Sri Lanka's leading Test bowler, off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, seemed to have lost confidence, perhaps feeling New Zealand was too close to Australia where his action had been questioned the previous season, and he did not make the impact expected.
New Zealand's Australian coach, Steve Rixon, took time to get to grips with players lacking the ability and bubbling confidence he seemed to expect. By the end of the summer, however, his team looked in better shape. Bryan Young set up New Zealand's first win over Sri Lanka with an unbeaten 267. Too often he had been guilty of failing to build on promising starts, but this time he maintained his dominance for five sessions. Blair Pocock and Matt Horne consolidated their places, while Germon's departure enabled Adam Parore to re-establish himself as a wicket-keeper/batsman. Above all, 18-year-old left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori maintained the extraordinary form he showed against England, and took 11 more wickets at 20.09.
A. Ranatunga (Sinhalese SC) (captain), P. A. De Silva (Nondescripts CC) (vice-captain), M. S. Atapattu (Sinhalese SC), K. S. C. De Silva (Nondescripts CC), H. D. P. K. Dharmasena (Bloomfield C and AC), S. T. Jayasuriya (Bloomfield C and AC), R. S. Kaluwitharana (Colts CC), R. S. Mahanama (Bloomfield C and AC), M. Muralitharan (Tamil Union), K. R. Pushpakurmara (Nondescripts CC), D. P. Samaraweera (Colts CC), H. P. Tillekeratne (Nondescripts CC), W. P. U. J. C. Vaas (Colts CC), G. P. Wickremasinghe (Sinhalese SC), D. N. T. Zoysa (Sinhalese SC).
A. P. Gurusinha (Sinhalese SC) withdrew before the start of the tour and was replaced by Samaraweera, who was later injured, as was Wickremasinghe. They were replaced by U. D. U. Chandana (Tamil Union) and R. S. Kalpage (Bloomfield C and AC).
Manager: L. R. D. Mendis. Coach: B. Yardley.
Test matches - Played 2: Lost 2.
One-day internationals - Played 2: Won 1, Lost 1. Abandoned 1.
Other first-class match - Abandoned v New Zealand A.
Other non-first-class matches - Played 2: Won 1, Drawn 1. Win - Central Districts. Draw - Northern Districts.
Match reports for
1st ODI: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Auckland, Mar 22-23, 1997