Test format and sunshine may revive tour

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 17/11/2012

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It's Worth a reminder that there's a cricket test involving New Zealand beginning in Sri Lanka tonight.

Most Black Caps tests abroad are greeted with a degree of anticipation by loyal cricket followers but this week there has been one of the most low-key buildups in recent memory.

It's a result of the team's recent performances and a five-match one-day series (won 3-0 by the hosts) that was notable for constant rain and little else.

It will take a few days of fine weather (which is forecast) in seaside Galle, and a fighting showing from the Black Caps to make your average punter pay attention.

As a measure of interest in this tour amid a jam-packed schedule, no New Zealand media outlets are represented. Radio Sport is not taking live commentaries because the rights were deemed too expensive, and NZ Cricket's media liaison man has returned home.

A conference call with coach Mike Hesson yesterday was terminated because he was blocked from dialling in from Sri Lanka.

It is 11 months since New Zealand's last test win against a major nation - the Hobart victory over Australia. Since then - a Napier stroll against Zimbabwe excepted - they've lost five and drawn two against South Africa, West Indies and India. New Zealand are ranked eighth to Sri Lanka's sixth.

In New Zealand's last test - against India in Bangalore in September - they at least showed glimpses of fight and spirit before losing by five wickets.

Captain Ross Taylor led a positive, attacking approach from the batsmen. His 113 off 127 balls on day one, and Tim Southee's seven-wicket haul, gave the Black Caps a sniff of victory.

Team news is scant but it would be a surprise if New Zealand deviated too much from Bangalore. That means a new-ball pair of Southee and the impressive Trent Boult; no room for Chris Martin and Jeetan Patel the solitary spinner. Uncapped leg-spinner Todd Astle might be too great a risk against Sri Lanka's prolific batting pair of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

"England's seamers had a lot of success here," Taylor said.

"It's not always about spin in this country and the weather might play its part. As we saw in the one-day series, once it rained the wicket juiced up a bit and it might play into our hands."

Taylor noted his relief at not having to face spin whiz Muttiah Muralidharan, and the tricky Ajantha Mendis is also absent.

That leaves off-spinner Suraj Randiv and experienced left-armer Rangana Herath who bagged eight wickets the last time the sides met in Sri Lanka, when the hosts won by 96 runs in Colombo in 2009.

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"The way we attack spin is going to be crucial," Taylor said.

"A lot of teams think that's a weakness of ours and if we can show that as a strength, and play positive and aggressive cricket to their spinners, it all bodes well."

New Zealand's last win in Sri Lanka was in 1998, and they've lost four and drawn two of their subsequent tests there. In Galle they lost by an innings and 16 runs in 1998, and 202 runs in 2009.

Sri Lanka also go well in Galle, under the shadow of the historic fort. They've won 11 of 20 tests there, including a 75-run win over England in March and a 209-run hiding of Pakistan in June.

- The Dominion Post

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