New Zealand and Sri Lanka come into the 2019 World Cup with very different aspirations. Whilst New Zealand will be quietly confident that they can go all the way and win the trophy, Sri Lanka will be looking merely to avoid complete embarrassment against the world’s top teams in the coming weeks.
Such embarrassment could well begin in Wales on Saturday when they face a New Zealand side who sit 4thin the ODI rankings. Sri Lanka won the tournament back in 1996 and were finalists in 2007 and 2011. Despite New Zealand never winning the competition, things are very different today and the quality between the two sides has shifted camps.
The Kiwis have one-day specialists littered all the way through their squad. In Ross Taylor and Trent Boult, they possess the No. 3 ranked ODI batsman and the No. 2 ranked ODI bowler respectively. Their ability to outscore their opponents, bowl their way to victory and excel in the field will certainly have Sri Lanka worried.
Trent Boult is fresh from a magnificent 4-wicket haul in a warm-up match against India and could have a field day against a weak Sri Lanka batting line up. 35-year-old Ross Taylor is in the form of his life, averaging 81 since the end of the 2017 Champions Trophy. His purple patch looks set to continue going into this year’s World Cup.
Sri Lanka come into the tournament having won just 10 of their 43 ODI matches since July 2017. Their record in World Cups on English soil is also poor. Just four wins in 16 games and group-stage elimination on all four occasions suggests that, with Sri Lankan white ball cricket at its lowest point in decades, this current side will have to perform a minor miracle to upset New Zealand in their opening match.
If Sri Lanka are to perform a minor miracle then expect Lasith Malinga to be the orchestrator. This will be the experienced 35-year-old's fourth and final World Cup and he still has what it takes to pick up wickets at the very highest level. Variation is key for bowlers in the shorter formats of the game and his slower ball and yorker could cause the Kiwi batsmen a few problems.
Despite Malinga’s magic, New Zealand’s batting power is likely to be far too strong for Sri Lanka to contend with. Captain Kane Williamson averages 45.9 in 136 ODIs and Martin Guptill has 16 ODI centuries to his name. Williamson and Guptill - along with previously mentioned Ross Taylor – are destined to make big totals in the World Cup and could well begin against Sri Lanka.
It should be a straight forward win for New Zealand against the Sri Lanka as they both open their World Cup accounts. The gulf in quality between the teams is too big to suggest otherwise and we could see a large total posted by the Kiwis if they bat first.