By Srian Obeyesekere
In a never as before overseas tours of make or break boiling point on two frontiers of Sri Lanka having to clean sweep New Zealand to making it to the ICC World Test Championship final that evaporated in a 2-nil defeat, to meeting the next hurdle, the most decisive of the two of whitewashing the Kiwis in the 3-match ODI series is the sky high challenge Dasun Shanaka’s team faces for automatic qualification to this year’s 2023 World Cup.
Indeed, it boils down to braving the chips are down odds of a harrowing ODI record of a 22-year long hiatus of having last beaten New Zealand in their own backyard in 2001 4-1 to since then six wins of 23 exchanges there and as much the handicap in the World Cup Super League of away losses to the West Indies, Bangladesh, England and a home record of losing to India, defeating South Africa while levelling the 3-match series against Afghanistan-all with a no result that saw the minnows gain automatic qualification for the world cup.
It is in a backdrop of New Zealand having won seven of 10 ODI series’ since the 2019 world cup that Lankan skipper Dasun Shanaka will lead an exuberant young outfit with a mixture of experience in veteran batsman and former captain Angelo Matthews when Sri Lanka confronts a New Zealand outfit that reportedly will be minus some of its star players in Kane Williamson and Tim Southee who have been released for IPL duty. Therein, while the Lankans would feel relieved however, the hosts do have quite stock to draw from to dishing out absorbing fare.
From a Lankan perspective, while young hard hitting batsman Nuwanidu Fernando is tipped to open the batting with Pathum Nissanka who is back from injury, of interest will certainly be the recall of Mathews from a 2+year absence having last played an ODI in March 2021. The 35-year old Matthews’ return from a patchy decline will generate focus with the seasoned campaigner questing for 165 more runs to reaching the 6000-run milestone to becoming the ninth Lankan batsman to do so.
The slow Eden Park pitch is reportedly batting friendly would be decisive to calling the shots as to which of the two sides would be dominant in Saturday’s day-night opener. Sri Lanka’s hopes on the batting frontline will need to be at their best. New Zealand is led by wicket-keeper batsman Tom Latham and has in its fold two inform batsmen in Daryl Mitchell and Matt Henry who figured prominently in winning the test series.
THE SQUADS: Sri Lanka from: Pathum Nissanka, Nuwanidu Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Angelo Matthews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka (Capt.), Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Maheesh Theekshana, Matheesha Pathirana. New Zealand From: Finn Allen, Chad Bowes, Will Young, Darryl Mitchell, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (Capt.), Glenn Phillips, Radin Ravindra, Blair Tickner, Ben Lister, Henry Shipley, Lockie Ferguson, Ish Sodhi