On Saturday, New Zealand dropped five catches – something that might happen to them once every 50 games, at most. A Sri Lanka player produced the batting performance of his life. And yet, such is the disparity between these teams that, a 21-run victory to New Zealand was nevertheless the result. The Sri Lanka attack’s toothlessness through the middle overs – especially in the absence of the suspended Akila Dananjaya – once again proved a definitive factor. As did the frailty of Sri Lanka’s own middle order, which lost five wickets in the space of five overs. It is no surprise that Sri Lanka have lost each of their last eight live matches.
Having sewn up the series, the hosts, meanwhile, are free to experiment. Seamer Doug Bracewell, who sat out the first two games, will likely get a run in Nelson. A good performance on Tuesday might see him considered for the squad for the five-match ODI series against India, later in the month.
There are no big selection decisions to make on the batting front, but happily for New Zealand, virtually their entire top order is in form, now that Colin Munro has broken his lean streak. Henry Nicholls, who has one fifty from his nine most-recent completed innings, could do with some runs, but so good has his Test form been that you sense a substantial one-day score can’t be far either. In both matches so far, he has also arrived at the crease just as New Zealand were beginning their death-overs assault, which left him with little scope to build an innings.
In their last two ODI series, Sri Lanka have lifted slightly after the series had already been lost. They are perhaps no closer to working out their World Cup combination than they were just before the series, but a victory in Nelson might at least give them their first win of the tour.
New Zealand WWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LLWLL
In the spotlight
Where Sri Lanka’s two wristspinners are yet to pick up a wicket in the series, Ish Sodhi has five wickets at 21.60 from the two matches so far. In the first game, his legbreak was coming out poorly, but he delivered a serviceable spell neverthelesse, relying on his googly to do the heavy lifting. On Saturday, all his variations were working, and it was he who had precipitated Sri Lanka’s middle-order collapse, having Kusal Mendis caught down the leg side sweeping, before deceiving Dinesh Chandimal and Seekkuge Prasanna with googlies. Sodhi is not quite up with the best ODI wristspinners in the world just yet, but has shown in this series that he is an improving and intelligent bowler – one that is capable of making match-winning contributions on the kinds of tracks expected in England during the World Cup.
Kusal Mendis had an outstanding Test year in 2018, but his ODI form was woeful – he averaged 16.42 in 14 innings last year. In two innings in this series he has looked decent at the start of his innings, but has made no more than 18 or 20. There has long been an argument that although Mendis does have the potential to be an excellent all-format player, that for now, his own development might be better served if he was reserved for the longest format, where he has shown the most promise. With four big Tests in Australia and South Africa coming up over the next six weeks, the worst thing that could happen to Mendis is for the confidence he had gained in his long-format batting to be dented by misadventures in one-dayers.
With the series now won, New Zealand may rest Trent Boult and bring in Doug Bracewell in his place. Either of Tim Southee or Matt Henry could also make way to let Lockie Ferguson re-enter the XI.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Kane Williamson (capt.), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Tim Seifert (wk), 7 James Neesham, 8 Ish Sodhi, 9 Doug Bracewell, 10 Matt Henry, 11 Lockie Ferguson
Will Dasun Shanaka finally get a game ahead of one of the misfiring allrounders in the XI? Will Dinesh Chandimal’s role in top order be reassessed? Sri Lanka have several passengers in their XI, but seem reluctant to cut them loose.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Lakshan Sandakan, 9 Lasith Malinga 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Pitch and conditions
Another high-scoring encounter is expected in Nelson, with boundaries slightly smaller than those at the Bay Oval. The weather is expected to remain good for the duration, with temperatures getting as high as 28 degrees.
Stats and trivia
- Kusal Mendis has made only one fifty in his 25 most-recent completed ODI innings. He averages 14.65 through this period, which stretches back 18 months.
- New Zealand have played six completed matches at the Saxton Oval in Nelson, winning all but one. Their only loss here, in fact, had been to Sri Lanka in December 2015.
- Ross Taylor has an average of 93.60 and a strike rate of 89, across 15 ODI innings since December 2017.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf
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