Cricket: Tour a chance to assess team mix

By David Leggat

Sri Lanka provides challenges of heat, tough pitches and quality opponents.

Were Tim Southee's test figures in Bangalore last month a false dawn or the start of his rise to become NZ's top fast-medium bowler? Photo / Getty Images
Were Tim Southee's test figures in Bangalore last month a false dawn or the start of his rise to become NZ's top fast-medium bowler? Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand's trip to Sri Lanka shapes as a tour of discovery for coach Mike Hesson. Among the questions he'll be hoping to get, if not definitive answers, then at least a decent indication on are:

* Whether Jeetan Patel can press on from a good trip to India recently and show there's more international life left in his 32-year-old offspinning fingers;

* If Todd Astle's first tour offers potential for more as a legspinner, or whether he drops back into the pack;

* Assessing Tom Latham's progress from an encouraging, if limited, first taste last summer;

* And discovering whether Tim Southee's best test figures, in Bangalore last month, were a false dawn or the start of his rise to become New Zealand's premier fast-medium bowler.

Patel's career has been stop-start, his 15 tests producing 47 wickets at a pricey 46.42 apiece spread over six and a half years.

Dan Vettori's pre-eminent position has meant Patel has only had a chance in the most favourable of conditions. His seven wickets in India last month came when Vettori was out injured.

Spin bowlers mature late. Patel has the chance, in Vettori's continued enforced absence, to reinforce that point.

Astle has the role occupied on the last couple of tours by Tarun Nethula. The Central Districts leggie suffered from being the 13th man too often, lost confidence and is back, if not red-carded, then certainly with chalk in hand at the drawing board. You'd hope he'll come again.

Astle has been around a while. He's no fresh-faced rookie and has 127 wickets from 55 first-class games over seven seasons.

Latham missed the world T20 but he is one of the players earmarked as an important figure looking ahead.

With Martin Guptill sitting out the limited-overs leg, a batting spot opens up. If his shoulder is tapped, not necessarily as a makeshift opener - Rob Nicol and Brendon McCullum are a logical pair at the top - he'll want to justify Hesson's belief.

Which brings us to Southee. He's flattered to deceive at times since a hugely encouraging test debut against England in Napier four years ago.

His performance at Bangalore, with the veteran seamer Chris Martin dropped to make way for him, was top notch.

He had enough pace about him, moved the ball about and got a fine reward, seven for 64, figures bettered only by Richard Hadlee, Chris Cairns and Chris Pringle in New Zealand's 82-year test history.

Southee is 23, has 53 wickets from 19 tests. A blend of Southee, Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult, with the likes of busy left armer Neil Wagner and Adam Milne in the mix, looks encouraging.

And might Martin roar back into the frame in Sri Lanka? A New Zealand test attack without the tall, lean 37-year-old, and Vettori for that matter, looks a shade underdone.

That could change over the next few weeks if the young seamers find their wings.

The short-form games start the trip. The players know Pallekele well. All five world T20 games were played there. They lost the last four.

They'll appreciate the challenges of the trip - heat, pitches, quality opponents. They'll also figure Sri Lanka are vulnerable, provided the handful of key players, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillekaratne Dilshan with the bat, Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis among the bowlers, are kept in check. This tour is difficult, but could offer rewards too.

Five big moments for New Zealand in Sri Lanka

1: First test, March 1984, KandyNew Zealand's first test in Sri Lanka, and a 165-run win. Left needing 263 to win, the Sri Lankans were rolled for 97, Richard Hadlee knocking the top of the innings off, finishing with four for eight, spinner Stephen Boock five for 28.

2: A ton of tons, April 1987, ColomboA match turned into a snorefest by Brendon Kuruppu's 548-ball 201 on debut. Sri Lanka were still batting into the third morning. Those were the days ... New Zealand responded with 406 for six with captain Jeff Crowe and Hadlee scoring centuries. Crowe's unbeaten 120 the fourth-slowest century in tests at 516 minutes; Hadlee's 151 not out was New Zealand's 100th century in tests.

3: Stand and deliver, May 1998, Premadasa Stadium, ColomboSri Lankan conditions seemed to agree with Stephen Fleming. This time his 240-run stand with Craig McMillan helped set up a 167-run win. Fleming made 174 not out; McMillan, sweeping furiously, hit 142 off only 179 balls, with six blows clearing the boundary.

4: Solo hand, April 2003, P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, ColomboFleming arrived at the crease after 9.5 overs of New Zealand's first innings and made the highest of his nine centuries, 274 not out, batting a tick under 11 hours. Then, in the second innings, Fleming opened and made an unbeaten 69. In a match of 404.5 overs, Fleming was on the field for 395 of them.

5: ODI triumph, May 2003, DambullahIt doesn't happen often, so let's celebrate New Zealand winning an ODI tri-series. This time it was against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. New Zealand beat the Pakistanis by four wickets in the final, with 28 balls to spare. The tournament was also notable for Shane Bond breaking his back. It would be 14 months before the champion speedster played for his country again.

Tour schedule (NZT)

Wednesday: Only T20, Pallekele, 2.30am
Thursday: 1st ODI, Pallekele, 10pm
Nov 4: 2nd ODI, Colombo, 10pm
Nov 6: 3rd ODI, Colombo, 10pm
Nov 10: 4th ODI, Hambantota, 10pm
Nov 12: 5th ODI, Hambantota, 10pm
Nov 17-21: 1st test, Galle, 5.30pm
Nov 25-29: 2nd test, Colombond, 5.30pm

New Zealand squads

T20/ODI: Ross Taylor (c), Brendon McCullum, Rob Nicol, Kane Williamson, James Franklin, Tom Latham, BJ Watling, Jacob Oram, Nathan McCullum, Andrew Ellis, Kyle Mills, Tim Southee, Ronnie Hira, Trent Boult, Adam Milne.
Tests: Ross Taylor (c), Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Rob Nicol, Kane Williamson, Daniel Flynn, James Franklin, Kruger van Wyk, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Todd Astle, Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Chris Martin.

- NZ Herald

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