Sri Lanka won their last Test assignment – it was a historic one too – in South Africa, but so much has happened since. New Zealand have had a different kind of high, and a heartbreak to boot, at the World Cup, but are determined to move on and make a fresh start in Sri Lanka, with the Tests part of the World Test Championship.
What’s certain is they won’t underestimate the hosts, even though they are yet to emerge from their forever-rebuilding state, under another interim coach. In Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, and Henry Nicholls they have a middle order more than capable of batting Sri Lanka out of the game. To bolster their batting unit, they have also recruited former Sri Lanka batting coach Thilan Samaraweera for the duration of the series.
Sri Lanka are coming into the series on the back of a comprehensive ODI series whitewash over Bangladesh. Prior to that, they finished a World Cup campaign that was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. All of it has taken place in the midst of constant backroom turmoil, culminating in head coach Chandika Hathurusingha being replaced in the interim by fast-bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake.
Yet, this Sri Lanka side under Dimuth Karunaratne has shown considerable mental resolve in recent months, especially with their batting, and while most teams would be unsettled by the loss of a coach days before a series, not many sides are as practiced at compartmentalising such chaos as Sri Lanka.
All things considered, though, New Zealand certainly have the edge. Yes, Sri Lanka have beaten South Africa and Australia at home in recent years, but that was with the assistance of the now retired Rangana Herath, and the injured Dilruwan Perera. Sri Lanka’s spin-bowling future in Tests still has heavy question marks around it. New Zealand meanwhile are coming on the back of five consecutive series wins, and it would take brave man to bet against them making it six.
Sri Lanka WWLDL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WWWDW
In the spotlight
This will be Sri Lanka’s first Test at home since Rangana Herath’s retirement. There had been a succession plan in place in the shape of Dilruwan Perera, but with him also out injured, Sri Lanka have suddenly lost some 378 wickets worth of spin-bowling experience on home soil. This puts the pressure squarely on Akila Dananjaya to carry Sri Lanka’s spin attack on what should be a fairly accommodating Galle surface. While Dananjaya only has 27 Test wickets to his name, 17 of which have come at home, they have come in just five Tests. This will be his first outing in the longer format of the game since he remodelled his action earlier this year.
Left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel was instrumental in New Zealand’s away series win against Pakistan last year, and despite having just the five Tests under his belt, he impressed in the warm-up game, where he walked away with a five-for on the only day play was possible. Visiting spinners have also had a fair bit of success in Sri Lanka recently, and Patel and co. will have studied closely.
Sri Lanka are set to welcome back Dinesh Chandimal, dropped for the series in South Africa because of poor form, and Angelo Mathews, who missed the South Africa tour because of an injury. New Zealand, meanwhile, could field three frontline spinners, with Todd Astle missing out.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Kusal Perera, 7 Dhananjaya De Silva, 8 Lasith Embuldeniya, 9 Akila Dananjaya 10 Lakshan Sandakan 11 Suranga Lakmal
New Zealand (probable): 1 Jeet Raval, 2 Tom Latham, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Ajaz Patel, 9 Will Somerville, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Tim Southee
Pitch and conditions
Galle pitches usually favour spin, so expect the same this time too. Given rain is forecast right through the Test, there’s every chance of a five-day affair, unlike recent Tests that have finished early. If it does go there, both sides will want to be bowling on a deteriorating deck, so winning the toss and batting first would be the obvious choice.
Stats and trivia
If New Zealand win this series 2-0 they will become No.1 ranked Test side in the world for the first time in their history
Teams winning the toss have batted first in 27 of the 32 Tests played here
Kane Williamson’s 968 runs against Sri Lanka at 80.66 is the most he has scored against a single opponent
Galle is one of only four venues where a single bowler has more than 100 wickets (Lord’s the only non-Sri Lankan venue in the list).
Tim Southee is six wickets from becoming the second-highest wicket taker in bilateral Tests between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Muttiah Muralitharan is the highest.
“We were too attacking perhaps in our last game here. We couldn’t for example stop the flow of runs. Now we have plans to move forward and all the spinners are in good shape.”
Dimuth Karunaratne on lessons from Galle 2018
“The guys that are here were part of a fantastic series in the UAE where spin bowling was the dominant art. They are really looking forward to the opportunity in another country where the conditions will be slightly different again.”
Kane Williamson is bullish about his spinners’ chances