Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Fast bowlers give Sri Lanka hope against upbeat New Zealand

Lahiru Kumara delivered 148kph thunderbolts CWI Media

Big Picture

This is a Test between a team ranked No. 6 that has just been walloped 3-0 at home, and a No. 4 side that has just returned from a 2-1 triumph overseas. That the series takes place in the the higher-ranked outfit's own conditions further underlines who the favourites here are.

There is stability for New Zealand. There is a highly-rated captain who has been in the job for almost three years. There is a well-heeled and confident attack. A solid top order. A reliable backroom. They've travelled across continents since their last Test, and arrived at the Basin Reserve where, by Kane Williamson's own estimation, the conditions they will encounter are the "polar opposite" to those last week in Abu Dhabi, and yet, they have made only one change to the XI, switching out the offspinner William Somerville for the fast bowler Neil Wagner. You get the feeling there is a plan at work here. That they are building to something. Perhaps something special.

The visitors, meanwhile, are scrambling. The poor returns against England first cost the selectors their jobs. The fielding coach and batting coach have also since been told they will be replaced. In truth, Sri Lanka's Test record over the past 18 months is not all that awful - they've won series against South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and drawn a series in the West Indies. But being whitewashed at home by England last month has stung. The whole system suddenly seems a little shaken. Now, they are in a country where they last won a Test 12 years ago, and where they have been more-or-less thumped in four matches this decade.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope for Sri Lanka, and that is their young, exciting seam-bowling battery. The last time Sri Lanka fielded three frontline quicks in a match, as they are almost certain to do in Wellington, they blasted out West Indies for 93 in Barbados, overturning a first-innings deficit, and setting up a win. Lahiru Kumara, the quickest in Sri Lanka's ranks, took 17 wickets at less than 20 apiece in that series. Kasun Rajitha seamed the ball viciously in his first two matches. Dushmantha Chameera, meanwhile, has already had one good tour of New Zealand, back in 2015-16.

But so infrequently do Sri Lanka play on seam-friendly tracks, it is difficult to gauge how good these bowlers actually are. Will they really be menacing and dynamic? Or will Williamson and co. wear them down, then exploit their inexperience? Sri Lanka have to hope they have some special young talents in their side. Form and proven quality are decidedly with New Zealand. All that remains to the visitors is surprise.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLWW (last five Tests, most recent first)
New Zealand WLWDW

In the spotlight

Henry Nicholls had skated by on a modest average for the first 16 Tests of his career, but 2018 might just be the making of the man. He made 145 not out against England, in Auckland, to begin the year, but it was in the UAE last month that he truly blossomed, making scores of 55 and 77 before his outstanding match-turning second-innings 126 not out in the company of Williamson, in Abu Dhabi. A good series at home to follow an excellent one overseas would help cement a burgeoning reputation as a reliable middle-order batsman.

Of Sri Lanka's batsmen, only opener Dimuth Karunaratne has a hundred in New Zealand - his 152 in Christchurch at the end of 2014. He also comes into the series with a little batting form, having made 256 runs at 42.66 against England, after having dominated the home series against South Africa earlier in the year. Now the team's vice-captain, Sri Lanka will look to him for some serious stability against the new ball, because it is a shaky middle order that he is protecting.

Team news

New Zealand have named their XI. They will go with the tried-and-tested pace trio of Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, with Ajaz Patel as the sole specialist spinner.

New Zealand: 1 Jeet Raval, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Neil Wagner, 10 Ajaz Patel, 11 Trent Boult

Sri Lanka's line-up is a little tougher to predict. Danushka Gunathilaka probably played himself into an opening spot with a second-innings 83 in the practice match. Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara are likely to be the first seamers chosen, with Kasun Rajitha, Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera fighting for the third seamer's spot.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Danushka Gunathilaka , 3 Dhananjaya de Silva, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Lahiru Kumara

Pitch and conditions

The pitch was barely distinguishable from the outfield on the eve of the match, but the general trend for Basin Reserve surfaces is that they dry out after day two and become very good for batting on days three and four.

Stats and trivia

  • Kane Williamson averages 91.88 after 12 innings against Sri Lanka. This is his highest average against any Test nation. After his ton in the second innings in Abu Dhabi, he also only needs one more century to become the first New Zealand batsman to make 20 tons.

  • Sri Lanka have lost each of their last five Tests against New Zealand - four of them in New Zealand, and one in Sri Lanka.

  • Sri Lanka's most recent win in New Zealand came at the Basin Reserve, back in 2006.

  • New Zealand will become the No. 2 ranked team in the world if they win the series 2-0.


"You do as much homework as you can, but there's some bowlers some guys haven't seen. That's the beauty of international cricket, in that you do see other countries' depth. We know that by all accounts there is a really talented fast bowling group in the Sri Lankan side. I'm sure they're really excited to get into the Test tomorrow. ."

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson on Sri Lanka's pace battery

"Straight after the series finished against Englnad we had three or four practice sessions. We knew that when we came to New Zealand we'd definitely get grassy pitches. We kept grass on our pitches and had really good preparation."

Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal

Sri Lanka 3rd innings Partnerships

1st5FDM KarunaratneMD Gunathilaka
2nd5FDM KarunaratneDM de Silva
3rd3FDM KarunaratneBKG Mendis
4th274AD MathewsBKG Mendis