Sophia Gardens in Cardiff will witness perennial dark horses New Zealand (NZ) begin their World Cup 2019 campaign against the 1992 Champions Sri Lanka (SL), who are groping in the dark for light in the tunnel.
Runners-up and semi-finalists on six other occasions, NZ invariably bring their best game to major tournaments. Their all-time ODI top-scorer Ross Taylor will be crucial to their hopes, as the last four years since the last WC saw him average 68.85 in 59 ODIs with 25 50+ scores.
The early exchanges (at least) in Cardiff should suit swing bowlers, which will be great news for Trent Boult. With eight wickets in the warm-up games on contrasting wickets, the left-arm seamer will be eager to start on a high. Leg-spinner Ish Sodhi will also be itching for a game, after having picked up eight wickets in his last three ODIs against SL.
Between 2007-15, SL played in five ICC finals, including two ODI WCs. All that remains a part of their glorious past however, as new captain Dimuth Karunaratne (yet to play an ODI since 2015) wrestles to bring the side back on the cricketing map. The two heavy warm-up losses to South Africa and Australia may be discarded, but not their recent record of 13 losses in 15 completed ODIs and 24 of their last 28.
However, like they have shown in the Tests in South Africa, SL can rise from the dead, which means taking them for granted comes at its own peril. An attack that has relied way too much on Lastih Malinga (322 wickets in 218 ODIs) might still surprise the Kiwis with Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep in its ranks.
NZ vs SL Probable XI
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (C), Ross Taylor, Tom Blundell (WK), Colin de Grandhomme, Jimmy Neesham, Lockie Ferguson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (C), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera (WK), Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep.
NZ vs SL ODI – Players to watch out for
Knocks of 67 and 85 in the two warm-ups is good preparation for Kane Williamson, who remains NZ’s best bet with the bat.
An average of 20.53 over 18 ODIs doesn’t say much, but Karunaratne has been SL’s best batsman in Tests over the last year or so. He also has the onerous task of lifting a side that keeps plundering new lows.
NZ have won seven of the last eight H2H matches, including the last four. SL have a 6-4 advantage in H2H matches played across World Cups. At neutral venues, SL have won six of the last eight H2H matches, although the last one was won by NZ at this venue in 2013.
Angelo Mathews averages 44.05 in the British Isles (837 runs), the highest among active SL batsmen.