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New Zealand aim to have Sri Lanka in a spin

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Posted by on Friday, April 30, 2010, 18:09
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Brendon McCullum’s prowess as a Twenty20 batsman is well known but older brother Nathan could also have an important role to play in the upcoming World Twenty20. The Black Caps open the competition against Sri Lanka here on Friday and, with warm-up matches suggesting pitches will take spin, off-break bowler Nathan is set for some key overs in an attack where New Zealand captain and left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori has been the mainstay for several years now. McCullum was given the new ball in New Zealand’s 40-run warm-up win over Ireland here on Tuesday, reviving memories of Martin Crowe’s ploy of using off-spinner Dipak Patel at the start of the innings at the 1992 World Cup – a tactic that helped the Black Caps get to the last four of that event. Against Ireland, McCullum took three wickets for 25 runs and Vettori, who went wicketless, said: “Nathan McCullum was outstanding with the ball. On a wicket like that you’ve got to be inch perfect because it’s so slow.” The Black Caps’ pace attack is led by fast bowler Shane Bond and it won’t just be Kiwi fans who will be hoping the former policeman, whose career has been blighted by injuries, can come through this tournament unscathed. New Zealand headed to the Caribbean with fitness doubts over several senior players but batsman Jesse Ryder suggested he was over the groin strain that forced his withdrawal from the Indian Premier League with a brisk 64 against the Irish. Together with Brendon McCullum he forms an explosive opening partnership with McCullum posting an unbeaten 116, one short of Chris Gayle’s world record, when New Zealand beat Australia in a Twenty20 match in February. McCullum is one of the most dangerous batsmen around in this format and Vettori was in no doubt of his value to New Zealand. “McCullum at the top of the order is the real key. If he has a good tournament I think the team will fire.” Sri Lanka, last year’s losing finalists, appear to have one of the best balanced squads for this form of cricket with the pace of Lasith Malinga to the spin of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis posing problems for most batsmen. Tillakaratne Dilshan, player of the tournament in England in 2009 and veteran Sanath Jayasuriya are just two of the island nation’s batsmen capable of fast scoring. The Sri Lankans lost by five wickets to South Africa in a warm-up match on Wednesday but did not have their strongest side out in a clash that, in any event, went to the last over. Whether the fact that most of the squad have been taking part in the lucrative Indian Premier League will catch up with Sri Lanka, remains to be seen but conditions, at least, should hold no fears for a side who reached the final of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. At it was in Guyana where the unorthodox Malinga made history in 2007, taking four wickets in four balls against South Africa. But former captain Mahela Jayawardene knows Sri Lanka, now led by the experienced and talented Kumar Sangakkara, could have had an easier opening fixture. “New Zealand has got a really good all-round team which can be totally devastating,” he said. To back him up, New Zealand beat West Indies by seven runs in their second warm-up on Wednesday.

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