Cricket: World Cup hopefuls get chance to shine

By Chris Barclay

Kane Williamson. Photo / Christine Cornege.
Kane Williamson. Photo / Christine Cornege.

New Zealand's preparations for next year's World Cup on the subcontinent ramp up in Sri Lanka tonight when they embark on a one-day tri-series with the hosts and powerhouse India.

New Zealand may be without established stars Daniel Vettori, Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder but the tournament will be far from a meaningless experience, particularly for cup contenders yet to be exposed to top level cricket in Asia.

Left-arm pace bowler Andy McKay and allrounder Kane Williamson arguably have the most to gain from a series which culminates in the August 28 final at the tournament's solitary venue, Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, in the Central Province.

Williamson, who turned 20 yesterday, is poised to make his senior international debut, possibly in New Zealand's middle order against a depleted India tonight.

With perpetual concerns over Ryder's fitness and attitude, Williamson could be the beneficiary as he strives to carry his undoubted promise into the elite level.

The right-hander was impressive in build-up matches against an Indian club team in Darwin, scoring 86 and an unbeaten 117 in his last two innings.

His first bat in Sri Lanka was not as successful, scoring five against a Sri Lanka A team yesterday as New Zealand won their final warm-up match by 185 runs at Pallekele International Stadium in Kandy.

Not that stand-in skipper Ross Taylor was deterred by the blip.

"I like what I've seen," Taylor said of Williamson. "He's a young, enthusiastic guy, he's worked hard on his batting and he's been willing to learn along the way."

It is also a crucial tour for late-blooming 30-year-old quick McKay, who has an opportunity to help fill the void left by Shane Bond's retirement.

Introduced in the home one-day series against Bangladesh in February, McKay was exposed to Sri Lanka's batting line-up for the first time in two T20 internationals in Florida in May.

"He's our fastest bowler and with Shane gone we need someone to step up," Taylor said. "Hopefully Andy can be that guy."

McKay took two for 24 from five overs against an outgunned A team on Saturday and Taylor felt he could be even more effective in Dambulla given the pitch is a touch greener than the standard Sri Lankan surface.

Incumbent test opener BJ Watling is another squad member on the brink of making his one-day debut after top-scoring with a patient 74 from 95 balls in Kandy.

That 185-run win was encouraging but Taylor acknowledged Sri Lanka and India were better prepared, even though their squads have altered since the three-test series ended 1-1 in Colombo yesterday.

The legendary Sachin Tendulkar, opener Gautam Gambhir and spinner Harbhajan Singh have all been rested while experienced batting allrounder Yuvraj Singh is recalled for India.

New Zealand's batsmen will not have to combat Sri Lanka's iconic spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who has also been rested after recently retiring from test cricket.

Middle order batsman Chamara Silva and veteran pace bowler Dilhara Fernando are the notable promotions to the Sri Lankan squad led by classy batsman Kumar Sangakkara and including Murali's successor Ajantha Mendis.

New Zealand squad: Ross Taylor (c), BJ Watling, Martin Guptill, Peter Ingram, Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, Grant Elliott, Jacob Oram, Gareth Hopkins, Jeetan Patel, Kyle Mills, Tim Southee, Nathan McCullum, Daryl Tuffey, Andy McKay.


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