Under normal circumstances, when one does a preview of a new series, the recent form of the teams is often taken into consideration. In that sense, the build up to the New Zealand-Sri Lanka Test series can be quite misleading. The recent stats would point out to the fact that the Kiwis were drubbed 2-0 by Australia while Sri Lanka easily got the better of West Indies in their previous Test assignment. Neither of these two results can be taken as an indication of the teams' respective forms when they meet at Dunedin. The Kiwis are a different side when they play at home while Lanka have rarely done well under the conditions that will be on offer.
Given the circumstances, New Zealand will clearly begin as favourites. They have bowlers who can amply exploit the swing, something which they did not enjoy in Australia, and were clearly handicapped because of the same. Tim Southee struggled with form and fitness issues against the Aussies. But, he could prove to be lethal if he gets his act right at home. The same can be said about Trent Boult, who only only began to make an impression towards the end of the series against Steven Smith and co. If these two bowlers get their house in order, the Kiwis should end up having a memorable series.
New Zealand will take batting positives as well into the series against the Asian side. Kane Williamson enhanced his reputation as a class act with another sublime effort against the strong Australian bowling line up. In contrast, the Sri Lankan challenge would be easier for him, but New Zealand would still want him to score big. Ross Taylor got one mammoth score at Perth, but his consistency remains a worry. The Kiwis would also expect better performances from their skipper Brendon McCullum. The biggest worry of all for them though would be the form of their openers, Martin Guptill in particular.
Without sounding harsh, it would be fair to say that a Sri Lankan victory in New Zealand would be nothing short of an upset. From the conditions to the players, Sri Lanka have nothing going for them, at least not on paper. With their batting stalwarts gone, Sri Lanka would be heavily dependent on their skipper Angelo Mathews to score big. Mathews himself hasn't been in the best of form, which will add to Lanka's pre-match woes. With no Dilshan, Sangakkara or Jayawardene, Lanka's batting wears a weak look. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the likes of Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal to prove their worth.
At home, Sri Lanka rely heavily on spin to bowl them to victory. Rangana Herath has been phenomenal in the period after Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement. He has won matches for the team even away from home. But, it would be unrealistic to expect the left-arm spinner to play an emphatic role in the series. Dhammika Prasad is their best bet in the pace bowling department. They would also hope for contributions from the younger lot. The build up to the Test hasn't been great for Sri Lanka, with Kusal Perera being suspended after testing positive for a banned substance. It remains to be seen how Lanka deal with this added distraction.
-- By A Cricket Analyst