New Zealand puts World Cup behind it to focus on tests
A month after a painfully close defeat in the World Cup final, New Zealand will finally be able to move on when it starts a two-match test series against Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Cricket's new test championship began with the Ashes series between England and Australia. Sri Lanka and New Zealand contest the second series of the championship. Points accumulated from now will decide the teams for the finals in 2021.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said that he hadn't done much reflecting on the World Cup final, which England won on the merit of scoring more boundaries after the scores were tied after 50 overs and again after a Super Over. It was the most dramatic final in cricket's limited-overs showpiece.
"I haven't really thought too much about that. Look forward to this, the start of the test championship," Williamson said. "We have a different squad being a test format, but here the guys have really been enjoying their time together, back in camp after sort of having a week off after the World Cup,"
Williamson said the test championship format adds context to every test played, irrespective of the opposition.
"I guess (there's) that added sort of carrot where in two years' time, everybody fights for an opportunity to play a test championship final," he said. "That should be an exciting thing to be part of."
"But between now and then ... there's so much test cricket to be played and the focus for us is definitely one game at a time, one session at a time. We know we are up for a very tough challenge here in Sri Lanka against a strong side."
New Zealand goes into the opening test in Galle confident with five straight test series wins, which includes a home victory over Sri Lanka, and is ranked No.2 in tests behind India.
Four of those five series victories have been in New Zealand, although the Black Caps did have success on unfamiliar pitches when they beat Pakistan 2-1 in the United Arab Emirates late last year.
Sri Lanka has been disappointing in patches, losing against England, New Zealand and Australia last year, but is hugely boosted by an unexpected but well-deserved 2-0 series win in South Africa earlier this year. That made the Sri Lankans the first Asian team to win a series in the country.
Captain Dimuth Karunaratne said his team, written off before the South Africa tour, had gained significant confidence from that series, although that positivity has been offset by backroom problems. Head coach Chandika Hathurusingha has been removed and replaced in the interim by fast-bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake.
Still, Sri Lanka is always a tough prospect on its home pitches and Galle will likely assist the home team's spinners despite rain falling on the eve of the opening test on Tuesday.