At a venue they had previously been decked in, in Christchurch, this Sri Lanka team pushed New Zealand close. Heading into the Wellington Test, there is likely to be some confidence in Sri Lanka’s seam attack, in particular. Kasun Rajitha delivered some excellent new-ball spells, Lahiru Kumara hurried batters up with his pace, and Asitha Fernando was Sri Lanka’s best bowler on the match-defining fifth day.
New Zealand will still back themselves, of course, with Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell in outstanding form, and others in the top order frequently contributing. But there will perhaps be more respect for the Sri Lanka attack among them, than when the series started.
Often Sri Lanka bowlers are easier to hit off their lengths, and do not move the ball for as long or as prodigiously as New Zealand seamers. In Christchurch, all three frontliners created both catching and lbw chances.
Compared to Hagley Oval, Wellington is a venue at which Sri Lanka have been frequently competitive. Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis batted out an entire day and a session to save a Test in 2018. Way back in 2006, Sri Lanka even won here.
For New Zealand, this is the last Test of their summer, and they have none on the horizon until December. A 2-0 series victory here would help salvage some pride, if little else, from what has been a disappointing World Test Championship cycle for them as defending champions.
New Zealand WWLDD (last five Tests, most recent first) Sri Lanka LWLWL
In the spotlight: Henry Nicholls and Asitha Fernando
It’s been over a year since Henry Nicholls last crossed 50 in this format. He has played 15 innings since. There doesn’t seem to be a serious technical flaw there – more just a string of lapses in judgement, and the loss of confidence that accompanies such spells. Having started out lower down the order, Nicholls is now batting at No. 4 position, which New Zealand have had trouble making stable since the retirement of Ross Taylor.
For a bowler who was playing his eighth Test, and just his second in non-Asian conditions, Asitha Fernando put together a surprisingly high-quality spell on the fifth evening in Christchurch. He is not a bowler with a lot of height, nor is he especially quick. But he does have a mean yorker, and a decent bouncer, both of which can unsettle even set batters. He has played mostly in unhelpful conditions, but so far averages 23.66, with 27 wickets to his name.
Pitch and conditions: Rain could play spoilsport
On the eve of the Test, Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne said the surface for this match was looking even greener than the one at Hagley Oval, and that pitch had been almost indistinguishable from the outfield. There is some serious rain predicted for Wellington over the next few days, however, with Friday, Monday and Tuesday looking especially wet.
Usually, Basin Reserve pitches start off very seamer-friendly, before flattening out substantially as the Test goes on.
Team news: Will Sri Lanka field a four-man seam attack?
New Zealand will likely just swap Doug Bracewell for the injured Neil Wagner. This will be Doug’s first Test since 2016.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Michael Bracewell, 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee (capt), 10 Matt Henry, 11 Blair Tickner
Sri Lanka seem to be seriously considering going in with a four-man seam attack, which would mean that left-armer Vishwa Fernando comes into the side, likely at the expense of left-arm spinner Prabath Jayasuriya. This will leave Dhananjaya de Silva as the primary spinner in the XI.
There is also a chance that wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella will be omitted for Nishan Madushka, who would debut. Madushka is in the squad after having struck a century and a double-century against England A at home. He didn’t keep during that series, however, and had opened the batting. If he plays in Wellington, he will take the gloves and likely bat in the lower middle order.
“They’re a quality side and we saw that over the five days in Christchurch. A number of those guys have had a number of tours to New Zealand now and have that experience. We’re seeing the benefit of that. They’ve had a great two-year period in the World Test Championship cycle, and would like to finish strong.” New Zealand captain Tim Southee on Sri Lanka
“We challenged the Kiwi top order with our bowling. Even some of their players came up to me and said they hadn’t expected that kind of pressure from the Sri Lanka bowlers. I’ve toured New Zealand a few times, but this is the first time I’ve seen the Kiwis struggling like this against our fast bowlers.” Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne