New Zealand’s batsmen will go in cold - figuratively speaking - to their first Test since March at one of world cricket’s most spin-friendly venues. Two days of rain at Katunayake, cut short their solitary warm-up match against a Sri Lankan Board President’s XI after just 65.5 overs on Saturday.
Spinner Ajaz Patel (five for 41 off 10) was the only one to make a compelling statement ahead of the first Test which begins at the Galle Stadium on Wednesday (14).
Will Somerville (one for 70 off 13.5 overs) was the only other out of the eight New Zealand bowlers to have success.
The batsmen, meanwhile, will arrive in Galle with two net sessions to prepare them at a venue which hasn’t produced a drawn Test since 2013. The last seven Tests at the Galle Stadium have been won by the side batting first, stretching back to India’s 63-run victory over Sri Lanka in August 2015.
England won the most recent Test at the ground in November when Captain Joe Root called correctly, they posted 342 in their first innings and spin trio Moeen Ali, Jack Leach and Adil Rashid took 16 Sri Lankan wickets between them to get home by 211 runs. Assuming similar conditions New Zealand will pick three spinners and the pressure will be on Captain Kane Williamson to call correctly at the toss to give himself and fellow batsmen the best chance. “We’re just trying to get in whatever sort of training we can in buildup to the first match. Mother Nature is not playing her part,” said Williamson. Williamson and Coach Gary Stead will inspect the pitch at Galle before nailing down their XI for the two-Test series opener, with the biggest question whether they do indeed play three spinners which means Neil Wagner and Tim Southee both likely miss out.
Assuming the surface is bereft of grass and looks like it will turn, Trent Boult and all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme could be the only seamers and one of Mitchell Santner, Todd Astle, Patel and Somerville will carry the drinks.
Leg-spinner Astle and off-spinner Somerville look likely starters given their respective points of difference and Patel put a strong case in the warm-up to edge out Santner who hasn’t played a Test since December 2017. Stead, speaking on arrival last week, hinted the dominance of the now-retired left-armer Rangana Herath on Sri Lankan pitches helped Patel’s cause.
“They’re different bowlers, and different in height. Mitch probably creates more bounce and sometimes that can be an advantage and in these conditions sometimes a disadvantage.”
“You want the stumps in play as often as you can and look at the success of [Rangana] Herath who took a lot of wickets over a long period here,” Stead said.
The top-six batting is set in stone with Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls and B. J. Watling while de Grandhomme looks the likely number seven followed by four specialist bowlers. (Agencies)