CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand have trounced West Indies 2-0, squeezed past England 1-0, snatched a series away from Pakistan 2-1 in the UAE, and now the series against Sri Lanka comes down to one Test in Christchurch.
With the chance to go 4-0 in terms of Test series in the last year, this is the opportunity to move up one spot to third in the Test rankings – reward for long-term excellence in the format, despite a frustratingly light Test schedule. “[Four consecutive series] wins would mean a lot to the side, in terms of consistency of winning against some very good opposition,” batting coach Craig McMillan said. “Quite often, when you’re talking about international sport, and cricket in particular, you’re talking about consistency. We’re very proud of our home record, and that’s the challenge for us now. This is a one-off Test, and the series is on the line.”
The victory in the UAE had been especially important – New Zealand becoming the first non-Asian side since 2013 to win a Test against Pakistan there, and the first non-Asian side ever to win a series. “We’ve been challenged in a lot of areas in a lot of different conditions,” McMillan said. “This side has always found a way. They’re just finding a way to win, to perform well, which is all you can ask as a coach – that you adapt, that you have good gameplans, and you go out and just worry about executing. The challenge for us is just to do that for another five days.”
In order to stretch their winning record, however, New Zealand’s batsmen will have to negotiate what are likely to be very seam-friendly conditions, on one of the most lively decks in the country.
The first session of the match shapes as a vital one, McMillan said. “You know what you’re going to get at Hagley – it has pace and bounce. It’s something as a side we’re always looking for. It suits the bowlers and suits the batsmen.
“History says you win the toss and you generally bowl at Hagley. There’s been plenty of times when we’ve won the toss and we’ve had to bat first. It’s about getting your head around it and adapting to the conditions. Quite often, that first session is crucial – especially if the sun is out and there’s a bit of wind about, it can be a pretty good batting track later in the day. It will be challenging for that first session.”
Whether New Zealand bat first or not, opener Jeet Raval’s performances may be under the microscope. Raval has been a frequent contributor to the New Zealand cause, but is yet to cross fifty in 10 innings this year. Twenty-five innings into his Test career, he’s also yet to make a triple-figure score.
“One of the messages to Jeet is that he’s actually batting very well at the moment,” McMillan said. “He’s made some errors, and errors can be very fatal at the Test level. The key for him is trying to eliminate those. In terms of some of his decision-making up to the point he’s got out, that’s some of the best I’ve seen him bat. He’s got a lot of confidence from that.”