Their all-round show during Tuesday’s tournament has catapulted New Zealand from being the underdogs to favourites in the ongoing tri-series.
Having surpassed all expectations in all three departments of the game on way to annihilating India by 200 runs, Ross Taylor’s bunch will be keen to put up another strong show against Sri Lanka on Friday.
Despite lacking in big names, Kiwis have traditionally been a bunch of men who deliver as a team. However, the one factor that has deprived them of success at the highest level, like their trans-Tasman rivals, is lack of consistency. No wonder, the Black Caps, as they are known in the cricketing arena, have been able to win an ICC trophy only once when they lifted the Champions Trophy in 2000.
But having given a glimpse of their potential on Tuesday, Taylor and Co. will fancy their chances against the hosts, who will play their opening tie of the tri-series at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium on Friday.
Though New Zealand were delighted with BJ Watling’s recovery from a viral infection, they were concerned about all-rounder Jacob Oram’s availability for the Lanka tie.
"We have a little bit of niggle with Jacob, just a tight hamstring. Hopefully, he can recover well tonight, we’ll see how he goes tomorrow," Taylor said.
"He’s an outstanding bowler; top-10 in the one-day rankings. If we were to lose him, it will be a huge loss. But it will be an opportunity for whoever comes in." If Oram is not 100 per cent, one of the two off-spinners — Nathan McCullum and Jeetan Patel — will get their first outing in the tournament. But, a bigger concern awaits New Zealand in Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis, though the former’s fitness status is awaited.
Hardly any Kiwi batsman has faced the slinger or the unorthodox spinner regularly. That means the onus will be on Taylor and Scott Styris, who guided their team to safety with a 190-run stand, to shore up the Kiwis.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have enjoyed a three-day break after a hard-fought Test series against India. With the World Cup in sight, the Lankan selectors have preferred Chamara Silva and Chamara Kapugedera over Thilina Kandamby for the solitary vacant slot in their middle order. However, with both of them awaiting an opportunity to impress the selectors, even seasoned Thilan Samaraweera will be under pressure to perform. So will be opener Tillakaratne Dilshan, who didn’t have a great Test series.
Having won 20 out of 28 matches in Dambulla, Sri Lanka will still carry the tag of favourites against New Zealand. It will be interesting to see how the Kiwis chalk out their strategy to register their second successive win on Friday.