In the current climate, there isn't a whole lot that can be described as 'solid' about Sri Lankan cricket and changes to their Test squad, under an interim coach set the scene for this intriguing Test series vs Aotearoa's Blackcaps. For kiwi cricket fans, Sri Lanka are a team that come to Aotearoa and struggle, accompanied by some level of unfamiliar and undercover drama, but with a 2-0 Test series win in South Africa stacked away from earlier and home conditions at their disposal, this series could be nigglier than many expect.
Adding to things being slightly in Sri Lanka's favour, was the limited action in Aotearoa's game vs a Sri Lankan XI as just one of the three days featured cricket. The kiwis had a bowl and the Sri Lankans worked their way to 323/6 with Ajaz Patel taking 5w @ 4.10rpo and Will Somerville taking 1w @ 5.06rpo. No Blackcaps bowler conceded less than 4rpo other than Mitchell Santner who bowled 6ov @ 3.16rpo without a wicket and of the spinners, Todd Astle had the toughest outing with 6ov @ 6.66rpo.
Somerville bowled the most overs of the spinners with 13.5, Patel bowled 10ov. The three main seamers (Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner) bowled 9ov each without much of an impact and the ease at which the hosts scored their runs in cruising along at 4.9rpo, could b minor reason for concern. Also notable is the lack of batting prep in these conditions as the Blackcaps didn't do any batting in this warm up game.
We know the Blackcaps batting line up is rather predictable at the moment, so the only real selection antics to discuss sit with the bowlers. Based on that warm up game, it seems like Astle will be one to miss out on 1st 11 selection and as Colin de Grandhomme bowled 3ov @ 8rpo, Santner could slide up to that all-rounder spot to make room for an extra spinner. If Santner plays in the #7 batting spot, then four more bowlers are required and it's likely to come down to Somerville vs Tim Southee; Patel, Boult and Wagner are likely selections.
That's a basic spin vs seam situation and although Southee hasn't exactly commanded selection across formats in recent times, his experience and skill could still be useful in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka also have four spinners on deck in lefty finger-spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, lefty leggy Lakshan Sandakan, funky tweaker Akila Dananjaya and offie Dhananjaya de Silva. Of that group, 25-year-old Dananjaya and 22-year-old Embuldeniya stand out as jokers to watch out for with Dananjaya averaging 24.25 after five Tests and Embuldeniya averaging 23.83 after two Tests.
Small sample size, but if the kiwis decide to roll out their struggles vs spin, the two young spinners along with the steady offies of de Silva could trouble the Blackcaps. Sri Lanka could also lean on lefty seamer Vishwa Fernando to add to his five Tests after he led all wicket-takers in the two-Test series vs South Africa. Fernando took 12 wickets @ 18.91avg and also bagged wickets in the 3inns he bowled vs India A for Sri Lanka A earlier this year. Kiwis know about Suranga Lakmal as he's the veteran of the bowling group, while we also saw Lahiru Kumara in Aotearoa; Kumara averages 64.25 (4 Tests) in Sri Lanka and Lakmal averages 53.53 (20 Tests) in Sri Lanka.
With Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal leading the batting group, Sri Lanka have a decent core for home conditions. The swash-buckling Kusal Perera led all run-scorers in South Africa and the next best Sri Lankan batsman was Oshada Fernando, who made his debut vs South Africa and already has a 50+ score in two Tests. Chuck in Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella as talented strokers and Sri Lanka could prove tough to dismiss, especially as the kiwis will likely play into their strengths with plenty of spin.
Spin, spin, spin. How the kiwi batsmen deal with spin will be fascinating, as will the journey through this Test series in exploring which Blackcaps spinner can have the most impact. In that way, this Test series could set the scene moving forward as there is a bit of sorting out to do of a spin department that feels reasonably level at the moment. Which of the spinners stands up to command attention, will then flow into what spinners are selected in future Tests.
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