Forty years of New Zealand – Sri Lanka Test cricket


Sri Lanka have undertaken their tenth bilateral series of New Zealand and are based in the south island currently and will move up to the busier north island after the first Test match. 

There’s a lot at stake on this tour for Sri Lanka with them being able to earn a spot for the finals of the World Test Championship at The Oval during the English summer with a 2-0 series win. A 3-0 clean sweep in the ODI leg will see them qualify automatically for this year’s World Cup. Even a series win by a lesser margin will result in them being forced to play the qualifying round tournament in Zimbabwe, which can get tricky.

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The quicks will enjoy the conditions and with Sri Lanka having invested a lot on fast bowlers in recent years they will be hoping that the quicks will make an impact during the tour. Not having Dilshan Madushanka, the left-arm seam bowler for the Test leg will be a blow and they will be hoping he’s around for the limited overs.

The nation’s Test players will end an eight month hiatus having last played a Test match against Pakistan in July last year. You feel sorry for nation’s Test cricketers, some of whom were in very good form but played little cricket over the last eight months. There seem to be little effort made to conduct any Test cricket outside the World Test Championship and the ones that are conducted within the championship are two game affairs.

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Sri Lanka have played the least number of games in the world Test Championship having featured in just ten games whereas if you take a team like England they have played 22 Tests. The challenge ahead of Sri Lanka is quite huge. Of the 19 Tests they have played in New Zealand, they have won only two while losing 11 games. It’s true that this team has shown lot of improvement in Test match cricket in recent years but beating New Zealand 2-0 will be quite a task.

There have been historic moments for Sri Lankan cricket while touring New Zealand. After playing the inaugural Test in 1982, Sri Lanka toured Pakistan for a series and India for a one off Test and New Zealand was their next assignment in early 1983.

Sri Lankan cricket was in a disarray with all the top players going on a rebel tour to South Africa.

Making matters worse, both captain Duleep Mendis and deputy Roy Dias were unavailable due to injuries and leg-spinner D.S. de Silva became captain by default. For the first Test, Sri Lanka had seven debutants and among them was Rumesh Ratnayake, a 19-year-old.

In the second Test in Wellington, Rumesh broke John Wright’s nose with a bouncer. Wright was fine and resumed his innings but legend has it that Rumesh upon seeing the blood on the pitch was feeling faintish.

Sri Lanka’s next trip to New Zealand came eight years later in 1991 and it was an eventful tour. It was the only time Sri Lanka have played a three match series in New Zealand. This was the series where in the first Test Aravinda de Silva posted the career best score by Sri Lankan. His 267 is still highly rated by people who saw it. With a first innings lead of 323 runs, Sri Lanka fancied a first ever Test win overseas but Martin Crowe produced a superb 299. He was denied s triple hundred by one run when Arjuna Ranatunga had him caught behind.

In the next Test in Hamilton, Asanka Gurusinha produced hundreds in each innings. The  next tour in 1995 saw Sri Lanka winning their first Test overseas. There had been never an issue with capable batsmen for Sri Lanka but they struggled to claim 20 wickets. The emergence of Chaminda Vaas was just what Muttiah Muralitharan needed and the pair complemented each other very well. Vaas was the hero on this occasion claiming a match bag of ten wickets. Having won the opening game in Napier, the teams travelled south to Dunedin for the second game and by holding on for a draw Sri Lanka were able to win their maiden series overseas.

New Zealand is a country of two islands. The north island consists major cities like Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington, the south island is famous for Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.

The cricketing landscape of New Zealand has changed significantly over the years with Lancaster Park, the venue that hosted the first ever Test match in New Zealand way back in 1930 ceasing to exist after the deadly earthquake and cricket being shifted to Hagley Oval in Christchurch.

Sri Lanka incidentally played the last Test match at Lancaster Park, the infamous game where Brendon McCullum ran out Muttiah Muralitharan after he stepped out of the crease to congratulate centurion Kumar Sangakkara having completed a run.

In the north island meanwhile, Basin Reserve, the county’s iconic cricket ground in Wellington has ceased to host white ball cricket due to limited capacity. ODI and T20 games in Wellington now have moved to the rugby stadium called WestPac. Similarly, the historic Eden Park has been randomly used for Test match cricket these days. A historic ground that hosted its first Test match in 1930 has become a favourite venue for rugby and if the name rings a bell it was here the 2011 Rugby World Cup final was played. Eden Park still hosts white ball games but Tests have moved to other locations of north island.