New Zealand will aim to continue their good run at home © Getty Images
New Zealand will aim to continue their good run at home © Getty Images

When Sri Lanka and New Zealand resume their cricketing rivalry with the first Test in Dunedin on Thursday, it will present a battle between two teams that have had a contrasting year so far. The visitors Sri Lanka have been unlucky in 2015. Their ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 campaign ended with a defeat in the quarter-final against South Africa. Later, they were beaten by Pakistan at their home by 3-2 margin in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). In Tests, their fortunes have not been any bright either, as they have gone down to both India and Pakistan at home. The only consolation for them this year has been victory over the lowly West Indies. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test at Dunedin

On the other hand, the hosts New Zealand have had a relatively successful year. They started 2015 with a bang by making it to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 final, where they were beaten comprehensively by neighbouring nation Australia. Then they lost two closely fought limited-overs series against England and South Africa and beat minnows Zimbabwe. In Tests too they have fared much better than Sri Lanka, as they drew 1-1 with England and then gave Australia a tough fight in the series that featured the historic day-night Test. Its score-line of 2-0 in Australia’s favour is deceptive, as had it not been for poor umpiring, New Zealand could have well won a game. As the two teams ready themselves for a duel, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at battles within the battle.

1. Brendon McCullum vs Angelo Mathews: A lot what happens in this series will depend on how these two men lead their respective sides in the series. Brendon McCullum has led his team in an out-and-out aggressive manner throughout this year. His attacking approach has paid huge dividends for the side and has been predominantly responsible for the team’s performance in 2015. Though he has had a dull year personally — 297 runs averaging 27 in 6 games — he would look to make amend in this series which is their last opportunity this year. Contrastingly, Angelo Mathews has had a tremendous run in the year as an individual player — 739 runs in 9 games including 3 hundreds — but his team has not succeeded. He will be leading a young and in-experienced side minus Kumar Sangakkara in the series. In addition, their best seamer Dhammika Prasad too will not be around. This will truly be a test of Mathews’ leadership ability.

2. Kane Williamson vs Rangana Herath: With 904 runs from 6 Tests at a mighty average of 90.40, Kane Williamson is the fifth best batsman in this calendar year. He has been in a red-hot form and 5 hundreds in last 8 Tests underline the fact. Sri Lanka would remember his unbeaten 242 against them in January this year which helped his team win by 193 runs. While Williamson would look to continue with his good run, there is one man who looks capable enough of stopping him. Rangana Herath has been Sri Lanka’s premier spinner ever since Muttiah Muralitharan retired. This year too he has been their second best bowler after Prasad, claiming 33 wickets in 8 matches and more importantly, winning games single-handedly. It will be interesting to see how these two approach this battle.

3. Trent Boult vs Dinesh Chandimal: Trent Boult has quickly emerged as the lynchpin of New Zealand’s bowling. The left-arm pacer was instrumental in his side’s dream run in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. In Tests too he has been impressive this year — 30 wickets in 6 Tests at 31.40 apiece. Recently, David Warner showed the world how to deal with Boult, when he went after the bowler in the just concluded Tests series. Dinesh Chandimal looks the most likely contender from the Sri Lankan batting unit who can take up that role. A natural striker of the ball, Chandimal loves to play his shots. Few can forget his counter-attacking 162 not out against India in Tests and 24-ball 52 against Australia in ODIs earlier this year. Having hit a fine 151 against the West Indies, he too is in fine nick, which makes this potential contest a mouth-watering one.

4. Suranga Lakmal vs Ross Taylor: In the absence of Prasad, pacer Suranga Lakmal is expected to lead the attack for Sri Lanka along with Nuwan Pradeep. Lakmal completed his 50 Test wickets this year during the series against Pakistan. He has had his share of injuries, as he was first ruled out of ODIs against England in May last year after sustaining a grade-two tear on his right hamstring. Later that year, he sustained a severe swelling above his left ankle and was again ruled out. If he can manage to keep himself fit throughout the series, he will be crucial for the island country. On the other hand, Ross Taylor has been in sublime touch. Having hit a career-best 290 in the second Test at Perth against Australia last month, Taylor will be one player to watch out for in this series. He is largely considered as a good player of spin, and thus is expected to deal with the Herath-threat quite convincingly. Also the 32-year-old loves to take on the pacers, which makes his battle with Lakmal interesting.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)