Reuters: New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum had challenged his side before the first test against Sri Lanka to continue their momentum from their series in Australia and after their 122-run victory has asked them to do it again.
The New Zealanders lost the three-match series across the Tasman 2-0 but had improved throughout and were considered unlucky not to have snatched a series draw with victory in the deciding day-night test in Adelaide, which the hosts managed to clinch in a tense three-wicket finish.
Against Sri Lanka at University Oval in Dunedin, with more favourable conditions they showed they could sustain their level of good play as they eye a return series against Steve Smith’s side next February.
“It was essential we got the win because we played some excellent cricket,” McCullum told reporters in Dunedin. “The thing about Australia was I think we got better as the series went on and this test match we stepped it up another notch.
“The challenge for us for the next three matches over the summer is to keep putting that line in the sand further and further away.
“That’s the challenge for us.”
What must have been pleasing for McCullum was the fact that Martin Guptill managed to put a poor return against Australia behind him to score 202 runs in the match, while Tom Latham finally converted a start to notch his first century at home.
Bowlers Doug Bracewell and Neil Wagner also continued to charge in on a pitch that did not deteriorate through the entire five days and perform the thankless task of tying down an end and exerting scoreboard pressure on the Sri Lankans.
Bracewell, who was arguably the best bowler for New Zealand in Australia, continued his strong form without much return.
“I thought he bowled absolutely brilliantly throughout the test match and all through Australia as well and just hasn’t got the rewards at the moment,” McCullum said of Bracewell’s match return of 1-88 from 40.2 overs.
“The good thing is he didn’t get frustrated. He had a good, calm head about him.”
Wagner, brought in as the fourth seamer, also put pressure on Sri Lanka’s batsmen with a sustained period of hostile short-pitched bowling that kept them on the back foot and will cause coach Mike Hesson selection issues ahead of the second test.
“There’s obviously times when there’s been a bit of resistance there and we just had to keep plugging away and I thought that’s when Neil Wagner really stepped up for us,” McCullum said.
“He bowled those ‘dead overs’ with hostility and when he’s in your team you know that you’ve got those overs when you are going to be able to create some opportunities.”
The key for his side, McCullum added, was to keep up that intensity when the second test begins at Hamilton’s Seddon Park on Friday.
“Sri Lanka is a pretty tough opposition to get results against. They have some excellent young bowlers and they asked some questions on day one. “We knew we would get better and it’s one thing expecting yourselves to get better but it’s another thing actually doing it.
“I thought the way that we played throughout this test match, bat, ball and in the field, was one of our most thorough performances.”
Trent Boult and Tim Southee are inseperable. They even get rested from the squad together - Getty Images
New Zealand to rest Southee, Boult in ODIs
AFP: New Zealand have left out their two main strike bowlers and selected one new batsman in the squad named Tuesday for the opening one-day matches against Sri Lanka.
Canterbury’s Henry Nicholls, a 24-year-old left-hander, is in line to make his debut in the first ODI on 26 December.
“He’s a player who has class and a player who we want to expose to the international scene sooner rather than later,” New Zealand Coach Mike Hesson said. “Through the A campaign he was exceptional, certainly the outstanding player in all forms of the game.”
Nicholls scored 210 for New Zealand A against Sri Lanka A in a four-day match two months ago. The squad named for the first three of five ODI matches against Sri Lanka excludes fast bowler Trent Boult who will be rested after a heavy Test schedule.
Fellow new-ball bowler Tim Southee will sit out the first two games after leading the attack in the two Tests against Sri Lanka. New Zealand won the first Test by 122 runs in Dunedin on Monday with the second Test starting in Hamilton on Friday. ODI squad: Brendon McCullum (capt), Doug Bracewell, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, George Worker.
Southee will replace Henry after the second match.