Expressing his views on the Test Championship Williamson said, “Looking forward to starting a Test championship against a strong Sri Lankan side playing in their backyard. We know it’s gonna be a really tough challenge and a great opportunity for us after what was a long and tough World Cup campaign.
“It’s a great occasion putting in a little bit of context into the Test arena. It’s a huge amount to play for in the space of two years, every match counts for points which ultimately goes towards of what could be a great occasion to play in a final at Lord’s which brings back bitter sweet memories. We are really excited to get into the Test championship and we know in Sri Lanka it’s a very tough place to tour in their home conditions as well. We are looking to play Test cricket after a long break.”
In order to help acclimatize and get familiarise to Sri Lankan conditions and pitches the Black Caps have hired former Sri Lanka cricketer Thilan Samaraweera as their batting consultant. Some years back in 2012 when they last toured Sri Lanka, New Zealand hired former fast bowler Chaminda Vaas as their bowling consultant.
However Williamson said that it was not something that they do all the time. “We signed Thilan for his experience and as a world class player and for our batmen and all of us to gain some experience in this part of the world.”
New Zealand head coach Gary Stead who is on his first tour to Sri Lanka said that it was a very big challenge playing Sri Lanka on their home pitches.
“They are very tough opposition. They have some world class players as well and we have to be very wary. At the end of the day we have to play the best we can by putting a good team out on the park and hope to win the game. I expect it to be a real hard fought Test series,” said Stead who succeeded Mike Hesson in August 2018.
On the appointment of Samaraweera as batting consultant Stead said, “Whenever Western teams come to the subcontinent there is always talk about how to play spin. We got some world class players ourselves but it’s all about trying to improve their games and I think Thilan will add a slightly different voice.
“We also got some challenges. We got some new coaches. I am still new and Peter Fulton is there on his first tour as batting coach. The more we can learn from Thilan’s experience it will better for our team on the long run.”
Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne also welcomed the Test Championship and said that it would encourage more cricketers to play the longer game now that there is World Cup like in one-day cricket to be played for.
“It is a very good thing this Test Championship because Test cricket was losing its interest. This type of competition is good because it will arouse interest from the spectators like the World Cup. A lot of people like the one day cricket because there is a World Cup in 50 overs and 20 overs,” said Karunaratne.
“Having a World Cup in Test cricket is good because a lot of players will be keen to play in a World Test Championship. It will encourage more players to take to Test cricket. We have to play on good wickets and try and win because we are playing home and away so there are advantages and disadvantages. We have a series of matches lined up and we are keen to perform well in them.”
Karunaratne said that they will have to quickly adapt from the pace and bounce in England to slow turning pitches in Sri Lanka for the Test series.
“New Zealand is a tough side and the same guys are playing now who played in 2011. I have some experience on the Kiwis and how good they are, we need to make some plans for them. We have to adapt from pace and bouncy wickets in England to slow and turning pitches in Sri Lanka. We need to technically adjust as soon as possible. For me always Test cricket is number one so I am looking forward to putting some runs on the board under my name,” said Karunaratne who made his Test debut against New Zealand at Galle seven years ago.
“After the Bangladesh ODI series (which Sri Lanka won 3-0) the boys are keen to win the Test series also. We want to give a good fight to New Zealand who are a good Test side as they have shown in Sri Lanka on previous tours. All the boys are excited to play against them.”
Sri Lanka has named a 22-member squad for the two-Test series and the selection of the openers and middle order batting have thrown some interesting challenges.
With Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal both available for selection the middle order has become quite an issue. Both batsmen missed out on the last Test series in South Africa which Sri Lanka won 2-0 to record a historic win.
“In their absence the players who replaced them played well,” said Karunaratne. “Angelo has returned to the team and Chandi is also in the squad. Their selection depends on what type of wickets we will get at Galle. If Chandimal gets selected he will come in as a wicket-keeper/batsman.”
With Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Perera also available there is going to be a three-cornered tussle for the wicket-keeper’s spot.
The openers’ berth has also been thrown open with Lahiru Thirimanne (who opened in South Africa) and Oshada Fernando (who played at number three) fighting to be Karunaratne’s partner.
Karunaratne said that experienced off-spinner Dilruwan Perera who is on the injury list will miss the first Test at Galle.
“He is still injured but the physio feels he might be fit for the second Test that’s why we have named him in the 22. We will see how our spinners fare in the first Test and if we feel we need a change we will consider Dilruwan for the second Test. Otherwise we might rest him for the New Zealand series and pick him for Pakistan,” said Karunaratne.
Sri Lanka names 22-member squad for NZ Tests
Sri Lanka has named a squad of 22 players with Dimuth Karunaratne as captain for the two-Test series against New Zealand starting at Galle on August 14.
Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal return to the Test squad after missing out on the last Test series in South Africa.
SRI LANKA TEST SQUAD: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, LahiruThirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Perera, Oshada Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka, Shehan Jayasuriya, Chamika Karunaratne, Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya, Lasith Embuldeniya, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Asitha Fernando.