ICC cricket World Cup 2015, New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Pool A match at Christchurch, preview, squads, and match time: Hosts favourite on form and home advantage

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New Zealand will be firm favorites against Sri Lanka going into the opening match of ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 at Harley Oval, Christchurch. If career records and form are anything to go by, it will perhaps be the first time in the history of World Cup cricket that New Zealand will begin as firm favourites instead of the quintessential dark horse. ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: SCHEDULE & MATCH DETAILS

Given that they are playing at home, New Zealand are likely to pose serious threat to Sri Lanka, more so because they have outplayed South Africa comfortably in their last warm-up match at the same ground, while Sri Lanka had been upset by Zimbabwe at Lincoln, that too in a convincing margin. ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: POINTS TABLE

With the bat, Kane Williamson has the toast of the nation for some time now. His current form is nigh-unbelievable: his last 16 innings include three hundreds and nine fifties (two of these half-centuries are 97 apiece); Ross Taylor, the man who tore the Pakistani attack to shreds in ICC World Cup 2011, would be the perfect partner with his ability to explode without warning. ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: Complete Coverage

Brendon McCullum may have been phenomenal form in the longest formats, but his One-Day International (ODI) average since the beginning of 2014 reads a mere 27. The fact that he has a strike rate of 117 can prove to be effective; it is also to be remembered that McCullum, just like Taylor, can play those “impact innings”.

The perpetually underrated Martin Guptill, steady at the top and arguably the best of contemporary fielders, would form the support cast along with Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi, both of whom have struck gold of late. Add to that the dangerous Tom Latham and Corey Anderson, the reliable Daniel Vettori, and the six-hitter Tim Southee, and New Zealand have a variety and depth in their line-up that can be the envy of many.

The New Zealand ODI seam attack is perhaps the best in the world: Southee and Trent Boult would match any new-ball pair; Kyle Mills has the experience and control; Adam Milne is genuinely quick; Mitchell McClenaghan, full of variations; Nathan McCullum, is unlikely to play, as New Zealand would probably play that old sly fox, Vettori; he will still have a trick or two up his sleeve.

New Zealand’s fielding standards have been traditionally high (often the best in the world). Add to that the home advantage: of their 17 home matches in 2014 and 2015 with decisions, New Zealand have won 12 and lost five (only Australia has better numbers). Restrict the opposition to only subcontinent oppositions, and the ratio reads 10:2. In addition to that, they have steamrolled South Africa by a 134-run margin: all New Zealand batsmen scored runs and no bowler went at above six.

The other aspect Sri Lanka needs to be wary of is Kiwi tactics: the last time New Zealand played in a World Cup at home they had won seven matches on the trot, and Martin Crowe’s shrewd tactics (involving a spinner to start bowling, playing a bunch of four military-medium pacers, using a pinch hitter, and frequent bowling changes) played a crucial role; who knows what “Baz” may unleash this time on his unsuspecting opposition?

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have traditionally not done well in World Cups outside the subcontinent, the only exception being ICC World Cup 2003. Their batting would rely heavily on “The Big Three” — Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, and Tillakaratne Dilshan. While the last two have averaged in excess of 60 on the recently concluded Sri Lanka tour, Mahela has also topped 46.

Unfortunately, with none of the others going past the 30-mark, Sri Lanka may have a thing or two to bother. They have Angelo Mathews, who is maturing with every passing day, and the destructive Thisara Perera, but Sri Lanka’s new-generation middle-order continue to disappoint.

The bowling is more efficient than spectacular. Lasith Malinga did not do a great job against Zimbabwe, which probably means Nuwan Kulasekara will have to assume the role of the spearhead. While Nuwan can be more than a handful with the new ball and Mathews can chip in with the odd wicket, especially in helpful conditions, he would need the young seamers to deliver. Sri Lanka would probably be more comfortable if the track is slightly slower, in which case their specialist spinners (and Dilshan) may come into play.

Squads:

New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (c & wk), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (wk), Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tom Latham, Nathan McCullum, Adam Milne

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan (wk), Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne (wk), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thisara Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake, Jeevan Mendis, Dushmantha Chameera

 

Chaminda Perera

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