New Zealand v Sri Lanka
Saturday, 14 February 2015
Hagley Oval, 12pm AEDT
(Prediction: New Zealand. They’ve spent months at home preparing)
Like Australia, New Zealand have expectations placed upon them to do well at the World Cup. One advantage for the Black Caps is they do not have to play a single game away from home, until the final, assuming they progress through the rounds.
Approximately 18 months ago, very few would have agreed that the Kiwis were in a position to challenge beyond the group stage of the World Cup. Three series wins for the summer put them in good stead, the only truly tough opponent being South Africa.
Brendon McCullum is a seasoned wicketkeeper/batsman, having played 240 one-day internationals. His 195 in the test series against Sri Lanka was played with such ease, it is no wonder New Zealand is hitting the straps.
To add to McCullum’s destructive one-day form, he sits firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to the big games and the World Cup stage. His average is a tick under 32, but could skyrocket if given the chance.
Tim Southee just pips out Trent Boult in this area. At the age of 26, Southee already has 18 World Cup wickets to his name in 2011, at an average of less than 18.
He can swing the ball both ways and keep the economy rate down, absolute liquid gold assets when it comes to using the white ball.
It may be better to slot Kane Williamson into the dynamo role, but given his much more recent perennial rise to New Zealand stardom, the X-Factor is ideal. The right-hander hit more than 400 runs in Sri Lanka in the one-day series – but it was his blistering 242 in the test match that had tails wagging.
Having had so much time to acclimatise to the home conditions over summer, Williamson will revel in the opportunity to give New Zealand a golden ticket to the final.
The ideal lead-up to the competition, which the Lankans won in 1996, would have been a much more competitive series against New Zealand, whom they will play their opening match against at Hagley Oval.
For a while, Sri Lanka looked consistent, especially with the likes of Lahiru Thirammane and Kumar Sangakkara running amok in the batting order. Now, their mettle has been tested – but it’s not down just yet.
Sangakkara’s one-day record speaks for itself. If experience at a World Cup gets a team over the line, Kumar is the man that everyone can turn to.
It isn’t just his record with the bat, but his leadership mentality on-field that needs to spur Sri Lanka on. After batting troubles in the recent ODI series, Sangakkara said he wasn’t worried just days from the tournament.
“You have contributions from various parts of your batting line up. If failures happen consistently you can worry about it, but at the same time, you’ve got to trust the guys to do their best, because they are the best players. They’ve been picked for this World Cup because they are the best 15. The worst thing you can really do is start doubting each other and start doubting yourself. We’ve learned that from our past tournaments.”
Rangana Herath is backed up by the likes of Nuwan Kulasakera, but has proven his track record across a 67-match one-day international career. The 2011 tournament saw him pick up just three wickets at an average of more than 41, but there is no doubt he will be picked more regularly in Sri Lanka’s group stage games.
You could pick Angelo Mathews in any of the three categories. He has been given a new lease of life in his game since his appointment as captain, and it has generally shown when he’s at the crease.
When much of the top order fails, Angelo steps in. Despite just one ODI century to his name, Matthews puts the foot to the floor when Sri Lanka needs it most. It is the fresh start that they needed, but they will not find it easy, especially coming up against such a confident Kiwi outfit.
Head to Head (ODIs) Played: 89 Won: 40 Lost: 41 Tied: 1 NR: 7
Most runs (World Cup, current players)
Kumar Sangakkara (991 runs)
Mahela Jayawardene (975 runs)
Tilakaratne Dilshan (717 runs)
Ross Taylor (431 runs)
Brendon McCullum (414 runs)
Most wickets (World Cup, current players)
Lasith Malinga (31 wickets)
Daniel Vettori (21 wickets)
Tim Southee (18 wickets)
Tilakaratne Dilshan (13 wickets)
Nathan McCullum (8 wickets)