Cricket: NZ need some spin for traction

Captain Ross Taylor has Jeetan Patel primed to fight fire with fire at one end and says they will counter the bowling attack in Galle by playing 'positive and aggressive cricket'.

Jeetan Patel. Photo / Christine Cornege
Jeetan Patel. Photo / Christine Cornege

History is unkind to New Zealand in Sri Lanka.

Three wins from 13 tests - two of which came in the first three tests New Zealand played in the Teardrop Island, back in the days of Hadlee, Crowe, Wright, Cairns, Boock, Smith et al - suggest it is among the harder places to succeed in the longest form.

So why should New Zealand be optimistic about their chances when the first test starts in Galle tomorrow night? For one thing it's a bit pointless going in expecting to get another duffing.

The two previous tests on the southwest tip of the island resulted in losses by an innings and 16 runs, and 202 runs. On both occasions, spin played its part.

Nineteen New Zealand wickets were taken by Kumar Dharmasena (offspin, and now an international umpire), Niraban Bandaratilleke (orthodox left arm) and the distinctive Muttiah Muralitharan on the first occasion. World test wicket recordholder Murali and quirky offspinner Ajantha Mendis shared 10 of the 20 wickets on the second occasion.

Expect spin to play a significant part again, so step forward Jeetan Patel. For years it seemed the Wellington offspinner was not quite going to really crack the test game. That's partly because a bespectacled left armer was always ahead of him and partly down to New Zealand's longstanding aversion to play two spinners in a test XI.

But Dan Vettori is not in Galle and having impressed in the two tests against India a few weeks ago, this is another big chance for Patel - with newcomer Todd Astle his understudy - to show his talents.

Over six years he's played 15 tests for 47 wickets but at 32, still has plenty of revolutions left in his spinning hand.

Against the Indians, he took seven wickets over the short series, six of them top-class batsmen.

There is a common assumption that batsmen from the subcontinent play spin bowling in their sleep. Certainly many of them play it with aplomb and an ability far outstripping most New Zealand batsmen.

The stumbling attempts by some to read modest legspinner Jeevan Mendis during the just-concluded ODI series, was embarrassing.

But that doesn't mean Sri Lanka's best are immune to good quality spin. Bear in mind Sri Lanka's batting depth is a shade iffy. Get past Tillekaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and they are vulnerable. If Patel can find his range New Zealand could be in business.

Captain Ross Taylor has also spoken of the need to be pro-active against Sri Lanka's spinners.

Muralitharan is no longer there. Ajantha Mendis is not in the test squad but 34-year-old Rangana Herath is. He's taken 11 wickets in two tests against New Zealand, 154 in 40 tests overall. Of more relevance, he's taken 35 in six tests in Galle.

"The way we attack spin is going to be crucial, and being positive," Taylor said yesterday. "Obviously a lot of teams think it's a weakness of ours. But if we can show it as a strength, play positive and aggressive cricket to their spinners, it all bodes well."

Showing New Zealand's batting against quality spin to be a strength is a stretch, but positive intent should be applauded.

Anchoring themselves to the crease, as if batting in army boots, will simply delay the inevitable.

New Zealand in Sri Lanka
P 13, W 3, D 5, L 5
At Galle: P 2, L 2
1998: lost by an innings and 16 runs
2009: lost by 202 runs.

- NZ Herald

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