World Cup hopes on the line for Sri Lanka against IPL-weakened New Zealand
Strong showing in Tests gives visitors hopes of springing a surprise in opening fixture
Big picture: Test thrills augur well
Despite the eventual 2-0 scoreline in favour of the hosts, it's safe to say Sri Lanka might have surprised a fair few folks that tuned into the Tests in Christchurch and Wellington - okay, maybe not so much the latter, but certainly over the course of that epic first Test.
In that game, the visitors, in pursuit of an unlikely World Test Championship berth, ran the defending WTC champions as close as pretty much anyone could have imagined. And in the process garnered some well-deserved respect from the wider cricketing world.
That, though, was the Sri Lankan red-ball side, one propelled not through individual exceptionalism but an almost New Zealand-esque sense of collectivism. And while their white-ball outings have also seen a marked improvement in recent times, culminating in a memorable Asia Cup T20 victory last year, their ODI unit has largely underwhelmed.
Since the start of the ODI World Cup Super League, Sri Lanka have lost away to West Indies, Bangladesh and England, while their home record has been marginally better, losing to India, beating South Africa and, most recently, drawing against Afghanistan.
The ODI side's nadir was arguably reached earlier this year during a 3-0 drubbing in India - a particularly tough pill to swallow in a World Cup year in the same country, especially as the T20I series that preceded had seen them take the hosts to series decider. While any silver linings in Sri Lanka's recent one-day history might seem like wizard-level straw-clutching, the record will nevertheless also show a 3-2 series win at home to Australia last year - so, yeah, there is that.
Which brings us to the present, where for Sri Lanka to have any hopes of automatic qualification for the World Cup later this year they need to complete a whitewash of New Zealand in the week or so ahead - and even then, they're heavily dependent on South Africa fluffing their lines in a series against Netherlands.
What they might have going for them is that the hosts won't exactly be at full strength. With World Cup qualification secured, and conditions in India unlikely to be anything like what the likes of Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton have to offer, New Zealand have given clearance for no less than nine ODI regulars to play in the IPL.
Sri Lanka meanwhile have a relatively settled unit and, save for the absence of Dushmantha Chameera, will likely be able to put out their strongest XI. On paper at least they look the stronger side.
(completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: WWWWW
Sri Lanka: LLLWL
Sri Lanka: LLLWL
In the spotlight: Matt Henry and Angelo Mathews
With 65 ODIs to his name, in terms of experience Matt Henry comfortably eclipses the combined match tally of Blair Tickner (9), Henry Shipley (3) and the uncapped Ben Lister - New Zealand's other seam bowling options for this series - while even the addition of Daryll Mitchell (19) to the list doesn't help all that much. Lockie Ferguson's 53 caps certainly would have evened the scales, but even without his recently picked-up hamstring strain, he was due to play only the first ODI before jetting off to the IPL. Henry is coming in on the back of an excellent Test outing against Sri Lanka, and if this youthful New Zealand outfit are to maintain their excellent home record, Henry will have a key role to play in it.
Angelo Mathews hasn't turned out for a Sri Lankan white-ball side since March 2021, and for much of that time a recall could have been categorised under hopeful at best. But if T20 cricket is a young man's game, well, ODI cricket might still have room for some greying heads, even if Mathews's recall at 35 in a World Cup year certainly does scream 'last dance'. An average of 41.67 and nearly 6,000 runs, of course, is nothing to be scoffed at - not to mention his most recent LPL stint where he played the role of finisher in impressive fashion. Sri Lanka will need him to call on all of that vast experience if they are to have any chance at securing automatic qualification.
Pitch and conditions: Bright conditions in prospect
Eden Park hasn't had much ODI cricket of late, but the last two games have seen 300-plus chased down and 273 defended. The pitch has also been known to aid spin. Weather is expected to be nice and sunny.
Team news: Bowes and Ravindra to debut
On the eve of the match, New Zealand captain Tom Latham announced that Chad Bowes and Rachin Ravindra would make their ODI debuts. He said, however, that the team hadn't yet finalised their full XI, and would make a decision on the bowling attack keeping workloads in mind.
New Zealand (probable) XI: 1 Finn Allen, 2 Chad Bowes, 3 Will Young, 4 Daryl Mitchell, 5 Tom Latham (wk), 6 Glenn Phillips, 7 Rachin Ravindra, 8 Blair Tickner/Ben Lister, 9 Henry Shipley/Lockie Ferguson, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Ish Sodhi
Most of Sri Lanka's XI picks itself but a few key areas remain up for grabs. At the top of the order Nuwanidu Fernando is the likely option alongside Pathum Nissanka. Then with five seamers in the squad, Sri Lanka certainly have options, with allrounder Chamika Karunaratne also able come in if Sri Lanka want an additional batter lower down.
Sri Lanka (probable) XI: 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Nuwanidu Fernando, 3 Kusal Mendis (wk), 4 Charith Asalanka, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Dhananjaya De Silva, 7 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Lahiru Kumara, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Maheesh Theekshana/Matheesha Pathirana
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka last won an ODI series in New Zealand in 2001 (4-1). Since then they've won six of 23 completed ODIs in New Zealand.
- Angelo Mathews needs 165 runs to score 6,000 ODI runs. He will become the ninth Sri Lankan to do so.
- Since the 2019 World Cup New Zealand have won seven of 10 ODI series home and away.
March 24, GMT 0330 The preview was updated with the news that Bowes and Ravindra would debut for New Zealand.