New Zealand eye top Test ranking in Sri Lanka series

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GALLE, Sri Lanka, Aug 13, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – New Zealand have a chance of
securing the top spot in Test cricket when they take on Sri Lanka in a two-
match series from Wednesday, exactly a month after their cruel World Cup
defeat to England.

New Zealand, with 109 points in Test cricket, are ranked behind India on
113 points, but a 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka will see the Kiwis leapfrog the
Asian heavyweights.

Test rankings have added relevance with the new, two-year ICC World Test
Championship now under way, culminating in a 2021 final at Lord’s between the
top two teams.

Crisis-ridden Sri Lanka will be wary of providing a rank turning wicket in
the first Test in Galle after being outsmarted by England in the most recent
encounter at the venue.

England overcame the battle with a variety of off-, leg- and left-arm spin
as the trio of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach played a key role in a
3-0 series sweep.

The Kiwis too are carrying plenty of spin options and are likely to play
two of them. Bombay-born left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel claimed five wickets in
the warm-up game in Negombo and he is likely to be the second spinner to
leggie Todd Astle.

Although seam is New Zealand’s strength, they are likely to stick to two
seamers with all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme coming in as the third option.
Trent Boult will be the number one pick while they will have to make a call
between Tim Southee and Neil Wagner, possibly the latter, who picked up nine
wickets in New Zealand’s last Test match.

But the hosts will be no pushover, as they showed by winning their recent
2-0 series in South Africa — becoming the first Asian nation to do so.

“They are a strong team. They will come into this series with lot of
confidence behind them after what happened in South Africa,” said New Zealand
coach Gary Stead.

– Tough choices –

But Sri Lanka have some tough choices, and in all departments.

The hosts have dumped head coach Chandika Hathurusingha halfway through his
three-year tenure, with former fast bowler Rumesh Ratnayake now filling in on
an interim basis.

When they trounced South Africa five months ago, rookie Oshada Fernando
played a key role posting an unbeaten 75 in Port Elizabeth in what was his
second Test match.

He became an instant hero and his subsequent snubbing from the World Cup
squad earned the wrath of former players.

There will be more disappointment as Fernando, one of the brightest
prospects to emerge in recent times, is set to miss both Tests with the
return of Angelo Mathews, who was injured for South Africa.

“New Zealand will be tough to beat. We have got guys who were not part of
the series in South Africa, so we have got to make some tough calls,” said
Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne.

Former captain Dinesh Chandimal, who also missed out on touring South
Africa, is back in the squad and the wicketkeeper’s slot will be a toss up
between him and Niroshan Dickwella.

Lahiru Kumara, another player who didn’t go to South Africa, will be Sri
Lanka’s lead fast bowler and it remains to be seen with whom he will share
the new ball.

Both Suranga Lakmal and Vishwa Fernando were main architects during the win
in South Africa. Squads

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Jeet Raval, Ross Taylor, Colin de
Grandhomme, Todd Astle, William Somerville, Mitchell Santner, Tom Blundell,
Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, B.J. Watling, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Ajaz
Patel, Neil Wagner

Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru
Thirimanne, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal
Mendis, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Akila Dananjaya, Lasith
Embuldeniya, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando

Umpire: Michael Gough and Richard Illingworth (England)

Third umpire: Bruce Oxenford (Australia)

Match referee: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe)

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