While the rained out second ODI in Christchurch would have no doubt been frustrating for both sets of players, the fact remains that its impact on the grander scheme of things was rather minimal – at least in terms of the World Cup Super League.
Having shared the points, and despite Sri Lanka also being docked a Super League point for a slow over-rate in the first ODI, the equation nevertheless remains the same for the visitors; win the game on Friday and force South Africa and Ireland to win their remaining games this World Cup cycle. Indeed, if both slip up, as improbable as it may be, Sri Lanka might just sneak into the final automatic qualification spots.
But to even entertain that distant notion Sri Lanka must first go out and beat New Zealand in Hamilton – a ground where the hosts have won 10 of their last 12 completed ODIs dating back to 2014. Sri Lanka, though in fairness, are one of the two sides to have beaten the hosts during that period. But of course, that was a far more vintage Sri Lankan line-up with a top order stacked with modern-day greats such as Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
This present Sri Lankan outfit doesn’t quite boast the same pedigree, even if Angelo Mathews remains a tether between the two, but it’s by no means a poor one – they have in fact beaten both Australia and South Africa, albeit at home, in recent times – so facing off against a New Zealand team shorn of several of its first choice players should have in theory made for some quite competitive cricket, home or away. Which is what made the outcome of that first, tremendously one-sided ODI so jarring.
It’s been nearly a week since then, and the washed-out second match would have no doubt given the visitors an extra couple of days to stew over that abysmal performance in Auckland.
Going into the series decider New Zealand will once more be fielding a bunch of players pushing hard for World Cup spots. As for Sri Lanka, what they’ve brought recently hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. Qualification may be out of their hands too, but it would be nice if they at least gave themselves a shot at it.
He has had to bide his time, but at 30 years of age Chad Bowes finally made his long-awaited international bow in the first ODI. And while his stay at the crease might have been brief, it gave the sense of a man at ease with his game. That said, his primary position is at the top of the order – an area admittedly not top of the hosts’ pre-World Cup priorities. But with plenty of white-ball cricket ahead of the tournament, a trademark Bowes barrage on Friday certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances of settling in the selectors’ thoughts.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Dhananjaya de Silva has flattered to deceive throughout his career. In Tests, 3006 runs at an average of 38.53 hints at unfulfilled potential. In T20Is, he’s proven to be a handy allrounder with his speedy offbreaks – though it says something when it’s his bowling rather than batting that tends to be the key factor in his inclusion. His worst format is then arguably ODIs, where he strikes at just 78 and averages 26.28. Nevertheless his omission from the first one-dayer caused a minor social media furore, illustrating how highly he is regarded despite his shortcomings. If Sri Lanka are to build a successful head of steam leading to the World Cup, Dhananjaya – among others – will need to start living up to the hype.
New Zealand (probable):
Henry Nicholls, Chad Bowes, Will Young, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Latham (capt, wk), Mark Chapman, Rachin Ravindra, Henry Shipley, Matt Henry, Ish Sodhi, Blair Tickner
Sri Lanka (possible):
Pathum Nissanka, Nuwanidu Fernando, Kusal Mendis (wk), Angelo Mathews, Charith Asalanka, Dasun Shanaka (capt), Dhananjaya de Silva, Chamika Karunaratne, Wanindu Hasaranga, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara.