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With WTC final dream shattered, SL's focus shits to levelling series

Last updated on 15 Mar 2023 | 03:49 PM
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With WTC final dream shattered, SL's focus shits to levelling series

Oh Lord! Let there be hat-trick of thrillers please

Watching a Test match in New Zealand is a bliss. The stadiums in this country are just picturesque. None of the stadiums across the globe beats them in a competition of attraction. To go along with that, watching a nail-biting finish, is just a fantasy for any cricket fan.

With the amount of T20 cricket happening across the globe, who watches Test cricket? Especially when two out of the ongoing three-Test series, have seen matches fold in just three days. Though the last Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy lasted five days, the pitch or the match had nothing in it.

In any case, if one wants to see what real Test cricket is, then watch the matches that are happening in New Zealand. The last two matches are the perfect example of why Test cricket is at its pinnacle.

A victory by just one run against England, after being forced to follow on, and the last ball win against Sri Lanka, on a rain-curtailed day, two breathtaking victories for New Zealand, and Test cricket.

To be fair, Sri Lanka put on a great fight. It was just that, they failed to seize the opportunities. In the first innings, after posting a total of 355 in the first innings, they had the home team in a spot of bother. New Zealand had lost their top six wickets for 188, trailing by 167 runs. However, the lower order alongside Daryl Mitchell handed New Zealand an 18-run lead.

In the second innings, Angelo Mathews led the charge with a spectacular century. The game swung like a pendulum in the chase, but the ice-cool Kane Williamson stayed till the end to see New Zealand through. OH! With this loss, Sri Lanka is also out of the World Test Championship final.

There is only one context to the second Test: for Sri Lanka, to draw the series.

Things to watch out for

Are the Kiwi bowlers struggling in the absence of Boult?

With Trent Boult exiting their central contract, and New Zealand’s structure of playing only contracted players in Tests, his absence has affected their bowling. In both the series, against England and in the first Test against Sri Lanka, the Kiwi bowlers looked a bit pale.  

In home Tests since Boult’s debut, Kiwi bowlers picked up a wicket every 27.4 runs and 56.3 balls, when Boult was in the playing XI. However, without him, their average raises to 33.1 in 11 matches. Let alone the history, in recent times as well, there is a stark difference.

In home Tests since 2020, with Boult in the XI, they bagged a wicket every 22.6 runs and 49.8 balls as compared to 30.95 average and 52.0 strike rate, without him.

Tim Southee alongside Boult, were hunting in pairs. But, in the aforementioned time, he has missed his partner. In home Tests since 2020, Southee averaged 21.4 and had a wicket every 46.5 balls. In any case, without him, he has a wicket every 27.8 runs at a balls/wicket ratio of 58.

The downward curve of Nicholls' Test career

Making his debut as an ODI player, Henry Nicholls showed his impressive skills as a better Test batter in his early stages. In any case, since 2021, his career has seen a constant downfall.

In his first five years, Nicholls scored close to 2000+ runs at an average of 41.6. Apart from his debut year (24.2), in none of the remaining four years, his average dropped below 30. His peak came in 2018, when he scored 658 runs in 12 innings at an average of 73.1.

But, after averaging 47.9 in 2020, his average dipped to 35.9 in 2021. Then it declined further to 27.9 in 2022, and now, he is at the lowest point of his career. In four matches in 2023, he averages 15.4.

Mendis and Mathews pair doing wonders in New Zealand

Sri Lanka were at an advantage at the end of Day 1, and Day 4, and that was mainly because of two batters. Kusal Mendis on Day 1, smashed an 83-ball 87, helping Sri Lanka post 355. On Day 4, Mathews put Sri Lanka in the driver’s seat with a scintillating century.

In the second Test as well, the batting will be dependent on these two. It is just not in the first Test, in their career, both these batters have an exceptional record in New Zealand. In case you didn’t know. In Sri Lanka’s tour in 2018, the pair came together at 13/3, and 283 runs behind. They batted out the whole day (Day 4), and both registered centuries to deny a win for New Zealand.

Both these batters average over 50 after batting 10+ innings in New Zealand. Among Sri Lankan batters who have played five-plus innings in New Zealand, only four batters average 50+. Only Kumar Sangakkara (61) averages better than Mathews (60.45) and Mendis’ average of 50.8 is the fourth best.

Pitch and Conditions

In the last five Tests at Basin Reserve, Wellington, batting has been fairly easy. In Tests since 2018, teams have scored runs at an average of 34.03, the second best after Seddon Park, Hamilton (46.2).

More than that, Toss has played a crucial role at this venue. Teams winning the toss have 80 percent of the matches (3 out of five), the highest among all New Zealand venues that have witnessed two or more matches. In all the matches in Wellington, teams have chosen to bowl first. In fact, in the aforementioned time, only twice have a team opted to bat first in this country.

As is the case in most of the venues in SENA countries, pacers have dominated the wickets column. 89.7 percent of the wickets have belonged to the pacers. They have bowled 84.3 percent of the overs as well. The pacers have scalped a wicket every 56.1 balls. Across the venues of New Zealand, only in Christchurch, the pacers (55.8) have a better strike rate, since 2018.

Tactical Nous

-In overseas Tests since 2020, Dimuth Karunaratne has had troubles against pacers when they have pitched it full. However, his record against length deliveries has been exceptional. In the first innings of the first Test as well, he fell driving to a full ball. In this period, he has averaged 18 against pacers when they have bowled this length (7 dismissals out of 11).

-Nicholls’ one biggest problem in Tests since 2020, has been back of the length or short deliveries against pacers. In this time, nine out of his 19 dismissals against pace, has come from this length. He averages 29 when bowled on these lengths.

Team combination

Neil Wagner was ruled out of the second Test with a bulging disc in his back and a torn right hamstring. Doug Bracewell has been called as his replacement. They have released Will Young ahead of the second Test, which could imply that they are not going to change the batting order. Either Bracewell or Scott Kuggeleijn might come in.

Probable XI: Devon Conway, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wk), Michael Bracewell, Tim Southee (c), Matt Henry, Scott Kuggeleijn/Doug Bracewell, Blair Tickner

Despite the loss, Sri Lanka are expected to go in with the same XI.

Probable XI: Oshada Fernando, Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kasun Rajitha, Prabath Jayasuriya, Lahiru Kumara, Asitha Fernando

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