After an astonishing two-Test series which ended 1-1, New Zealand’s tour of Sri Lanka moves to T20Is - the home side’s weakest format in recent times.
Since 2015, Sri Lanka have won only 27.6% of their T20I games, compared to 39.2% in Tests and 33% in ODIs. In the same time period, New Zealand have won 53.8% of their T20Is.
What adds to Sri Lanka’s worries is their inability to win at home. The Islanders have won only 26.6% of their home T20Is, a miserably low number for a Test-playing nation. They have not won a T20I series since defeating Bangladesh 2-0 in early 2018. They also failed to reach the final of a tri-series tournament involving India and Bangladesh in February 2018 at home. Needless to say, New Zealand will start as favourites despite being the visitors.
Sri Lanka’s dismal record is triggered by their unproductive batting line-up in the past few years. Amongst their current crop of batsmen, Isuru Udana, a bowling all-rounder averages the highest with the bat - 73. The next best is Kusal Perera at 38.3 runs per dismissal. Their top order has an average of 23.1, better than only Zimbabwe and West Indies while their middle-order (number 4 to 6) 21.4, only West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe have been worse.
New Zealand have done reasonable better in terms of batting consistency in the same period. The Kiwis will return to their preferred opening pair of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro. The former is back in New Zealand’s T20I side after missing the series against India in February 2019. The duo have scored at 10.07 runs per over in the 14 innings when they have opened the innings together, the second highest run rate for an opening pair in T20I history with 10 opening partnerships or more (behind Loots Bosman and Graeme Smith - 10.18 runs per over in 12 innings).
Munro has been the main aggressor for New Zealand at the top. He has lost his place in the ODI side, but when it comes to T20 cricket, he remains New Zealand’s x-factor. The southpaw gave a hint of his ability in the warm-up game against Sri Lanka Board President XI by scoring 48 off just 27 balls.
With the T20 World Cup scheduled for next year, both sides have rested some high profile names for this series in pursuit of finding some apt back-ups. Kane Williamson and Trent Boult have flown back home after the Test series. However, New Zealand looks settled with a majority of their players who won the T20I series against India in February still a part of the squad. Lockie Ferguson’s inclusion is a big boost to the bowling department.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have a lot of questions to answer. They have a number of slots to fill after the exclusion of nine players from their 16-man squad which featured in the T20Is against South Africa in February. Thisara Perera is the major omission facing the consequences of a below-par 50-over World Cup in England. The Sri Lankan selectors also decided to look away from Angelo Mathews owing to his low scoring rate in the shortest format of the game. Moreover, there are clouds lingering over Akila Dananjaya’s inclusion in the XI. The leg-spinner was reported for his action and Sri Lanka decided not to play him in the second Test against New Zealand after he had taken a five-wicket haul in the first Test.
Pallekele International Stadium, the venue for all the games in this series, will be hosting a T20I after three years. The ground has had an average run rate of 7.86 runs per over so far, mediocre by the standards of T20 cricket but still the highest amongst all venues in the island country.
Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Tim Seifert (wk), Ross Taylor, Daryl Mitchell, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Scott Kuggeleijn, Tim Southee (c), Ish Sodhi, Lockie Ferguson
Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Perera, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dasun Shanaka, Isuru Udana, Lasith Malinga (c), Akila Dananjaya, Kasun Rajitha, Lakshan Sandakan