New Zealand faces challenges at home against Sri Lanka

Coach Gary Stead says New Zealand will go into the first of two cricket tests against Sri Lanka on Saturday in the unusual position of being at a disadvantage in home conditions.

New Zealand last month beat Pakistan 2-1 in a three-test series in the United Arab Emirates and Stead said the team’s two months playing on flat pitches in the UAE had left it unprepared for the green and bouncy pitches it expects to encounter at home.

First test venue the Basin Reserve especially has provided well-grassed pitches in recent seasons, though they haven’t always lived up to their promise for seam bowlers. New Zealand made 520-9 on its way to an innings victory against the West Indies at the Wellington stadium in December last year and replied with 539 to Bangladesh’s 595-8 in March, 2017.

But conditions friendly to seam and swing bowlers have helped New Zealand craft a good home record against teams from Sri Lanka and the sub-continent; they have won their last five tests against Sri Lanka and haven’t lost at home to an Asian team since 2010.

The series win in the UAE, New Zealand’s first over Pakistan away from home in 40 years, will have given it confidence for the coming matches against Sri Lanka. But Stead believes his team is still “vulnerable” in the first home test of the summer.

“I do feel this is a vulnerable time in that we have been back only a week,” Stead said. “Some guys are still struggling with jet lag and we are going from the extreme conditions of low, slow, turning wickets to probably a hard, fast, bouncy Basin Reserve wicket, so they are all things that are little red flags that we need to be aware of.

“So the key word for us in our preparation is let’s “adapt’ and be really clear on our game plans because these guys have done it before and they can do it again – but we are a little bit more vulnerable than we would normally be.”

Stead took charge of the New Zealand team for the first time against Pakistan and seems to have overseen a seamless coaching transition after the resignation of his predecessor, Mike Hesson.

In contrast, Sri Lanka seems in upheaval after their 3-0 series loss to England at home, the replacement of its national selectors and the resignation of its batting coach. Stead said as a new coach he found Sri Lanka an unknown quantity but likely to be competitive.

“Most teams in world cricket can upset others and it’s not like there is a massive gulf between them all and we certainly won’t be taking Sri Lanka lightly,” he said. “For me it’s the unknown … but that’s where I’ll be leaning on the support staff and players as well to ensure the right scouting that we need to do is complete and done.”

New Zealand has named its strongest lineup for the match, including seamers Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner and naming spinner Ajaz Patel to play his first home test.

Kane Williamson enters the series needing only one test win to overtake Brendon McCullum and Geoff Howarth as New Zealand’s most successful test captain. Williamson has accumulated 11 wins in 2-1/2 years since taking over from McCullum.

The New Zealand captain is also challenging India captain Virat Kohli for top spot on world test batting rankings. (Courtesy Associated Press)

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