New Zealand will be hoping to add to Sri Lanka’s poor record at their own Oval ground — P. Sara Oval in Colombo — and level the series in the second and final Test starting Thursday.
Unlike the spinner’s paradise at Galle and the batting haven that is the SSC, the Oval – the only ground in Asia where Don Bradman played – favours seam bowlers.
Sri Lanka have been often exposed at this Colombo ground by quality seam bowlers and, despite being one up in the two-match series, they will have New Zealand’s Trent Boult and Tim Southee – and possibly Neil Wagner – to contend with.
In the last 10 years, Sri Lanka have played seven games at The Oval and lost five, including once to New Zealand. In that game seven years ago, Southee claimed eight wickets while Boult finished with seven.
“We have some fond memories from last time, and we managed to win that,” New Zealand wicketkeeper B.J. Watling said at a pre-match media briefing on Wednesday.
“The boys like to talk about their wickets and there’s a few stunning catches from memory as well. Having good memories is always good, but it is a new game, a new day, and we need to be switched on,” Watling added.
Left-arm quick Wagner claimed nine wickets in New Zealand’s last Test match and was unlucky to miss out in Galle as conditions heavily favoured spin. He is expected to make a return possibly at the expense of Mitchell Santner.
The opening Test was a lot closer than the six-wicket margin suggests and the New Zealanders know that fielding lapses cost them dearly after setting Sri Lanka a daunting task of 268 runs.
“No one’s trying to drop a catch or miss anything. I still look back on those chances and they are pretty tough ones. Sometimes they stick and sometimes they don’t,” Watling said.
“We have to give a lot of credit to Sri Lanka’s batsmen – especially that opening partnership.
“Hopefully in this Test we can look to make some more inroads through that top order and hopefully put that middle order under more pressure.”
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will leave out off-spinner Akila Dananjaya, whose action was reported to be suspect for a second time by match officials after the Galle Test.
Dananjaya, who claimed a five-wicket haul in the opening game, was forced to remodel his action after it was first reported in November last year.
Technically he is allowed to play the second Test, but he is likely to travel to India instead to test his action. Dilruwan Perera has been drafted into the squad and is expected to play.
Sri Lanka will move up to the number five of the official ICC rankings if they win the second Test and the series.
More importantly, it will give them a strong start in the World Test Championship.
Wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella was confident his team will put on a good show.
“We want to win against world’s number two ranked team. It’s going to be a different game here and fast bowlers will come into play a lot,” he said.
“It’s a big challenge. Having won one game, we have a big responsibility to win the series. We need to keep making good decisions at crunch moments,” Dickwella told journalists.
New Zealand squad:
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 and Neil Wagner.
Sri Lanka squad:
Dimuth Karunaratne (Captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando.
Umpire: Michael Gough and Bruce Oxenford (Australia)
Third Umpire: Richard Illingworth (England)
Match Referee: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe)