Sunday, January 11, 2015
Start time 1100 local (2200 GMT)
Seven-match ODI series usually prompt groans from all but tournament broadcasters and host boards, but with the World Cup close enough to salivate on, New Zealand and Sri Lanka kick off their final phase of preparation, in conditions that should be similar to those they encounter in February and March.
For now, New Zealand will be producing more drool at the prospect of a World Cup. They are soaring on good vibes from an outstanding Test series, their batsmen and bowlers are in form, combined with perhaps the best fielding outfit in the world. Perennial dark-horses in world tournaments in the past, now they are among the bonafide favourites.
They have the advantage of playing at home for the next few months, but with that comes expectation. There is significant public pressure on New Zealand to do well in a home World Cup. That it was at Hagley Oval where Brendon McCullum made a whirlwind 195 and Trent Boult bowled several high-quality spells, albeit all in another format, may add to the team's confidence.
Sri Lanka's returns have been a little more mixed in the past four months. They handed out a token thrashing to England at home, but had been steamrolled by India a few weeks prior. Collectively, they will be distraught at having lost the Tests 0-2, but individually, there were some bright performances from men who are expected to play key roles in the ODIs.
Lahiru Thirimanne's unbeaten Wellington fifty will be particularly heartening, as he and Angelo Mathews seek to make a troublesome lower middle-order secure, while Dimuth Karunaratne's 152 in Christchurch has effectively earned him a World Cup berth, and created a new opening option for Sri Lanka.
(last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Overlooked for the second Test, but preferred over James Neesham for the World Cup squad, Corey Anderson is one of the more exciting all-round talents the cricket world will look forward to following over the next few months. In 10 matches at home so far, he averages 51.83 with the bat, with a strike rate of 180 - thanks in no small part to that world-record hundred against West Indies. He is not coming into the series with a lot of form, however, having had modest returns in the UAE ODIs and an unremarkable List A outing last week.
Kumar Sangakkara hit a sublime 203 in the Wellington Test, but was troubled by Trent Boult's outswing throughout the series. Thrice he was out to Boult in single-figures, though one of those dismissals was somewhat controversial, and each time he had been attempting an expansive stroke. He is likely to play more freely in the ODIs, and attempt to unsettle the bowlers before they dictate terms, but the Boult v Sangakkara battle will be one to watch.
Tim Southee has been rested for the first two matches, owing in part to his heavy workload in the Tests. Matt Henry has been called into the squad as cover. Ross Taylor will also have the first game off and may have his place filled by Grant Elliott. New Zealand also have both Nathan McCullum and Daniel Vettori in their squad, but only one of them is likely to play. Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne and Kyle Mills may also be competing for two spots.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt.), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Grant Elliott, 5 Tom Latham, 6 Luke Ronchi (wk) , 7 Corey Anderson, 8 Nathan McCullum, 9 Mitchell McClenaghan/Adam Milne, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Trent Boult
Sri Lanka will want to trial Dimuth Karunaratne as opener, which means Mahela Jayawardene will bat at No. 4. They may also reintroduce Nuwan Kulasekara into the XI, after solid performances in domestic cricket. They might also toy with the idea of playing an extra batsman or allrounder, and rely on Angelo Mathews and Tillakaratne Dilshan to make up the remaining overs.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 Thisara Perara, 8 Jeevan Mendis/ Dhammika Prasad, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Sachithra Senanayake, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
Hagley Oval has hosted only two ODIs before, but the pitch is unlikely to be as green as the one the Test was played on. Expect good bounce, carry and a hint of turn. The weather is forecast to remain fine for the duration of the game.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand only played 11 ODIs at home in the last year. They won six, lost three, tied one and the other was washed out.
- Brendon McCullum has played 18 ODI innings against Sri Lanka, but his average of 17 against them is his lowest against any side.
- Sri Lanka have lost seven of their 10 most recent completed matches in New Zealand, stretching back to 2001.
There's a lot of cricket between game one against Sri Lanka and early February. We get to see a lot of different players in different positions and different scenarios. We'll put them under pressure, test them and see how they react. I think it's the ideal lead-up to that World Cup.
New Zealand batting coach Craig McMillan is set to put his boys through the paces
Over the years, the older guys have maintained high standards, and the youngsters looking at them will be lifted because of that.
Sri Lanka coach Marvan Atapattu says influx of experience for the ODIs will boost the inexperienced players as well
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando