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13 February 201519:37 By Anand Vasu, Christchurch

New Zealand v Sri Lanka Preview, Match 1 at Hagley Oval

The home side has all bases covered, but the weather and a settled top order could help Mathews’s men set down a marker

New Zealand v Sri Lanka Preview, Match 1 at Hagley Oval - Cricket News
Players from two teams will heave a collective sigh of relief when the first ball is sent down at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Saturday (February 14). New Zealand has never had as much expectation on its shoulders, and, Sri Lanka, who has been in this neck of the woods since December, can’t wait for the real action to begin.

The clash between the teams, the first of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, could serve a very early pointer as to what to expect from a group stage that all captains are describing as being wide open.

New Zealand has every single element in place and after a bit of fine-tuning is purring along. In terms of obvious weaknesses, New Zealand has none. The batting is not merely highly competent, but has the potential to be genuinely explosive. If Kane Williamson, touted to eventually become the greatest batsman New Zealand has produced, is the backbone, and Martin Guptill the X-factor at the top of the order, there is plenty more to follow. If a base has been built, there is no better man to collar the bowling than Brendon McCullum, whose form has been nothing short of spectacular. And then there is Ross Taylor, who can either build or destroy, depending on what the situation demands.

If the batting has all bases covered, New Zealand’s bowling is the envy of most other teams. The attack has pace, skill, swing and seam, is young and energetic. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have consistently asked questions, and with the forecast for Saturday not being the brightest – light morning rain and temperatures in the region of 15 degrees Celsius are predicted – the swing and seam merchants could be expected to play a big role.

For Sri Lanka, Lasith Malinga, especially when fully fit, is the ace finisher, but the likes of Nuwan Kulasekara, accurate and always trying his hardest, could be a handful if there is exaggerated movement.

Sri Lanka’s greatest strength lies, however, in the three deeply experienced batsmen at the top of the order. To have Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena in the mix gives the team a cushion and kind of quiet confidence that no other international outfit can boast at the moment. Over the years, it has been teams that have had established, experienced, settled batting orders that have been the mightiest forces in the World Cup. Take Allan Border’s Australians in 1987, Imran Khan’s Pakistan in 1992, Arjuna Ranatunga’s Sri Lanka in 1996, and look beyond. You will find instance after instance of this experienced batting line-up succeeding consistently.

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When the weather holds, there will be some excellent times for batting, with pitches in New Zealand and Australia expected to be firm and true. At the Hagley Oval, the ball has carried beautifully through to the keeper and though the boundaries are far from short, there is excellent value for shots played thanks to a fast outfield. These are the kind of batting conditions teams from the subcontinent, who like to score a large percentage of their runs in boundaries, thrive in. Of course, if it’s overcast or drizzling, that changes the picture considerably.

The toss will play a bit of a role if the teams arrive at the ground for the 11am start with rain in the air. No team particularly likes to have to factor in the chance of a curtailment.

Either way, rain or shine, Christchurch has waited for this moment for a while now, and it cannot come too soon for Sri Lanka and New Zealand. It’s not merely a question of getting the points that will help them progress to the next round, it’s a chance to set down a marker, to show themselves and the world what is possible in this tournament.

Teams: (likely)

New Zealand:
Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (capt), Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Luke Ronchi (wk), Corey Anderson, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Adam Milne, Trent Boult.

Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews (capt), Dimuth Karunaratne/Dinesh Chandimal, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Lasith Malinga