The Black Caps are back in action this week, taking on Sri Lanka in Galle, in the first of two tests. The tests double as the two sides' opening matches in the World Test Championship, and the first showdown begins tomorrow at 4.30pm. Niall Anderson runs through four key questions ahead of the test.
Can the Black Caps batsmen handle the spin?
A massive contrast awaits the New Zealand batsmen after largely seam-friendly wickets at the World Cup. In the last test played at Galle, between England and Sri Lanka, spin accounted for 79 per cent of the overs bowled, with both sides opting for three frontline spinners. The last time New Zealand had to face such conditions, against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, they struggled to deal with Yasir Shah, who took 29 wickets in three tests, including 8-41 as they were rolled for 90 in the second test. However, they fared well in the third test, and did just enough with the bat in the first, to take a 2-1 series victory.
Coach Gary Stead said he'd be "mightily surprised if it doesn't spin" in Galle, and his side will be going in cold after not getting to bat in a rained out warm-up game. But, for a team that always talks about adapting to conditions, here is their best chance to prove they can master any surface.
How many spinners will the Black Caps pick – and which spinners?
Past history – and the 65.5 overs they bowled in the warm-up match – suggests three spinners is the way to go. If that's the case, Trent Boult will likely be the sole seam spearhead, with Colin de Grandhomme's medium pacers in support.
Unless captain Kane Williamson backs himself as a third spin option – unlikely, considering he hasn't bowled 10 overs in a test since 2014 – the three spinners would come from the spin quartet of Mitchell Santner, Todd Astle, Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville.
Patel is almost certain to play after taking five wickets in the warm-up, and Santner is a good restrictive option who can also provide assistance with the bat. With the top seven set in stone, there may not be a need to play both Santner and Astle, even though having Astle batting at nine would make for a strong tail order. In traditional circumstances, Astle would probably be the one to miss out, but his leg-spinning point of difference could see him usurp Santner or Somerville.
Which Sri Lankan players are worth watching?
The usual faces are there - Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Angelo Mathews makes for a solid batting core that could trouble New Zealand if they play well. However, the intrigue comes with the bowlers, especially the spinners.
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Akila Dananjaya can bowl a vast array of dangerous deliveries, having taken 27 wickets in just five tests, but has only just returned from suspension due to an illegal action, while Lasith Embuldeniya starred on debut against South Africa, taking 5-66. That pairing, along with third spinner Lakshan Sandakan and all-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva, will be the bowlers the Black Caps have to negate if they're to win the series.
Which Sri Lankan team will show up?
The big question. The ever unpredictable Sri Lankans are coming into the test under an interim coach, with Rumesh Ratnayake appointed as Sri Lanka Cricket looks to tear up Chandika Hathurusingha's contract, despite Hathurusingha's last test series in charge being an unbelievable, and unprecedented, series victory over South Africa.
Their inconsistency was even on show last summer in New Zealand, where they managed to save the first test with Mendis and Mathews batting for an entire day, before then being humiliated by 423 runs in the second test – New Zealand's biggest test victory by runs. However, Sri Lanka are a much better side at home, and showed what they're capable of when they stunned South Africa, so they should pose a much bigger threat this month.