NZ has to be at their best against SL-Gary Stead

2019-08-12 at 19:37

New Zealand coach Gary Stead believes that his team will have to be at their best against Sri Lanka when they meet in the two-Test series, beginning 14 August in Galle.

New Zealand’s Test record in Sri Lanka hasn’t been great: they have failed to win a single series since their 2-0 victory on their first tour to the island nation in 1984. They have lost three series and drawn as many, having managed just two wins from 14 Tests in the period. This time, though, they look like a settled unit, and are going in with a spin-heavy bowling attack that is suitable for the conditions.

Stead, however, is wary of the treat from the hosts. “They’ve got the likes of [Angelo] Mathews back and he adds some glue to their middle order as well,” Stead said. “They’ll come into this series and the Test championship with some confidence I’m sure. We’re going to have to be at the very top of our game.” Stead indicated that leg-spinner Todd Astle and off-spinning all-rounder William Somerville are likely starters on a surface expected to offer significant assistance for the slower bowlers.

“I’d be mightily surprised if it doesn’t spin [in Galle],” Stead said. “You want the stumps in play as often as you can and look at the success of [Rangana] Herath, who took a lot of wickets over a long period here.

“They [Astle and Somerville] are different bowlers, and different in height. Mitch [Santner] probably creates more bounce and sometimes that can be an advantage and in these conditions sometimes a disadvantage.” Stead also had praise for Ajaz Patel, the left-arm spinner, who was the stand-out performer in the rain-affected practice match at Katunayake. Patel registered figures of 5/41 in his 10-over spell.

“Ajaz bowled beautifully. It probably showed he’s been bowling right throughout the year in the UK as well [for the Cranleigh Cricket Club in Surrey] and carried on where he finished with us last time, which was great to see.”

As for New Zealand, they can be extremely proud of their recent record in the longest format. The Kane Williamson-led side has won each of their last five series, registering eight wins and just a single loss from 12 matches in the period.

Their preparations for the Sri Lanka series have been somewhat dented by rain, as only 65.5 overs were possible in their three-day practice game against the Sri Lanka Board President’s XI. Captain Kane Williamson admitted training had been a challenge.

“There was a huge amount of rain, we bowled 60 overs and that was basically it,” he said. “It was nice to get outside for a little bit, but not too much to report.

“We’re just trying to get in whatever sort of training we can in the build-up to the first match. Mother Nature is not playing her part.”