Sri Lanka look to batsmen for revival

Monday, 28 December 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


ESPNCricinfo: Beaten in the Tests and walloped in the first ODI, a beleaguered Sri Lanka have 40 hours to rebound in Christchurch. In the Tests, it was the short delivery that got them. On Saturday, it was the moving ball. Milinda Siriwardana and Nuwan Kulasekara played manful innings, but the match had virtually been decided in the first 10 overs.

Even on a batting-friendly pitch, and without their two usual new-ball quicks, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, New Zealand’s four-pronged seam attack appears formidable. Adam Milne and Matt Henry provide intensity with the new ball; Milne a shade quicker, Henry a better exponent of seam movement. Then the hit-the-deck bustle of Mitchell McClenaghan and Doug Bracewell probe Sri Lanka’s top order from a new angle.

Mitchell Santner’s left-arm spin seems New Zealand’s most vulnerable frontline bowling option, but if the seamers get through their first spells as clinically as they did on Saturday, Sri Lanka will not risk taking Santner on. Both teams’ attacks have been depleted for this series, but New Zealand seem to have greater depth, in addition to familiarity with the conditions.

What Sri Lanka desperately need is for their experienced batsmen to take control of a match. Five innings into the tour, the visitors are yet to hit a century. Tillakaratne Dilshan seems the likeliest candidate, but having been in good form through the Tests, team-mates will look to Dinesh Chandimal as well.

New Zealand, meanwhile, will not want to change much for Monday’s match. With Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill having bludgeoned the visiting bowlers into submission in the first game, they may feel confident enough to continue smuggling inexperience in that middle order.

With his 79 from 56 balls on Saturday, Martin Guptill became the top ODI run-scorer for 2015. Less than 12 months ago, he was searching for runs in the seven-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, his place in the team in some jeopardy. Then he went to the World Cup and top-scored, hitting an incredible 237 not out in the quarter-final against West Indies. New Zealand have now become accustomed to good ODI starts from Guptill. He is 49 runs ahead of Kane Williamson for the year, and one more good innings will probably safeguard his top position.

In a bleak 2015, Milinda Siriwardana has been one of Sri Lanka’s few rays of sunshine. Merely a good domestic performer for several years, Siriwardana’s cricket has progressed quickly in the last 18 months. An excellent first-class season - in which he was the top run-getter - paved his route to the national side, and his combative batting has since seemed at home there. Should the top order ever begin to score runs, Siriwardana appears increasingly capable of providing the kinds of finishes Sri Lanka have missed in the past 18 months.

Nuwan Kulasekara might make it into the XI based on his batting performance alone, but as his bowling was limp in the first ODI, Sri Lanka may consider bringing Thisara Perera into the side. With Ajantha Mendis having been hit for more than nine an over, Sachithra Senanayake could also make an appearance.