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New Zealand has the edge in familiar conditions

Without Perera and Prasad, Sri Lanka will look to skipper Mathews to provide inspiration

New Zealand has the edge in familiar conditions - Cricket News
Brendon McCullum plays a shot.
Sri Lanka has already been dealt twin blows ahead of its two-Test series against New Zealand, which kicks off with the first Test in Dunedin starting on Thursday (December 10).

First, it has to deal with the absence of Dhammika Prasad, easily its best pacer over the last year, following a back injury sustained in the warm-up tie against a New Zealand Board President's XI.  

To compound its woes, Kusal Janith Perera, the explosive wicketkeeper-batsman, was sent back home after testing positive for a banned substance.

While Perera will be replaced by Kaushal Silva, who has already shown that he has the right temperament for the long form, Prasad's spot in the squad will be taken by the uncapped Vishwa Fernando, the left-arm medium pacer. Fernando was in good form during Sri Lanka A's two unofficial Tests against New Zealand A, in which he picked up five wickets.

Sri Lanka has two other fresh faces in the squad after leaving out Lahiru Thirimanne, the left-hand batsman, and Tharindu Kaushal, the offspinner, from the touring party. Udara Jayasundera, the opening batsman, and Jeffrey Vandersay, the 25-year old legspinner who both impressed in the games against New Zealand A, have been drafted in. Jayasundera made a case for an international debut by scoring 63 against New Zealand Board President's XI. If Jayasundera plays, he will open alongside Dimuth Karunaratne, who came out of a lean patch with scores of 186 against West Indies and 93 in the warm-up match.

Angelo Mathews, the captain, will once again be expected to lead the way and Sri Lanka's chances will depend a lot on his form and that of Dinesh Chandimal.  

While Prasad’s is a huge loss, Sri Lanka have sheer pace in the form of Dushmantha Chameera, who took four wickets in the warm-up game. Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal complete the pace battery. Apart from Vandersay, Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera provide spin options, but the nature of the Dunedin track could mean there will be place for only one specialist spinner.

New Zealand has kept faith in Martin Guptill in spite of his continued struggles in Test cricket. Guptill had poor returns on the recently-concluded tour of Australia, managing just 82 runs across six innings. But with New Zealand naming a 12-man squad, Guptill will likely continue to open the innings with Tom Latham.

New Zealand will again miss the all-round services of Corey Anderson and James Neesham, who are both recovering from back injuries. The duo's absence means Mitchell Santner, who made his debut in the pink-ball Test in Adelaide, could get another game.

New Zealand has enough firepower in the batting. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor are in supreme form, having scored runs by the bucketful in the series against Australia, while Brendon McCullum, the captain, is always dangerous and will be keen to atone for a less than fruitful outing in Australia.

Trent Boult's form will be a concern as the left-arm paceman struggled initially against Australia, although he made amends, taking a five-wicket haul in the second innings of the final Test. A return to familiar conditions could turn things around for him. The all-round skills of Santner, a left-arm spinner, and the fact that coach Mike Hesson has sought green, seaming tracks, could mean Mark Craig, the offspinner, misses out.   

Sri Lanka's last assignment was a successful one as defeated West Indies 2-0. However, it did struggle in the tour game against the Board President's XI, where it was bowled out for 193 and then saw the opposition pile up 399 for 8 declared. Sri Laka will need to find a way of adapting quickly.

New Zealand, on the other hand, is coming off a tough assignment against Australia, losing the three-Test series 2-0. But familiar conditions and a proud home record – it hasn’t lost a Test in its backyard since going down 0-1 when South Africa visited in 2011-12 - make it the favourite heading into the contest.

Teams (from):

New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (capt), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling (wk), Kane Williamson.

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishwa Fernando, Rangana Herath, Udara Jayasundera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Suranga Lakmal, Kusal Mendis (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Kaushal Silva, Milinda Siriwardana, Jeffrey Vandersay, Kithuruwan Vithanage.

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