Wellington: Final preparations for the World Cup loom large over the upcoming test series between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, which starts at the Hagley Oval on Friday, with seven one-day games to follow the two matches in Christchurch and Wellington.
Both sides will be fine tuning their World Cup selections, with final squads needed for Jan. 8, the day after the second test ends, but New Zealand will also be seeking to build on their recent resurgence in the test arena.After winning both home series last summer, beating West Indies away, then drawing with Pakistan after being hammered in the first test in the UAE, New Zealand enter the series playing at a level that would not justify their ranking of seventh.
The team has been galavanised under the captaincy of Brendon McCullum, with the only concern in the top five the opening partnership, with Hamish Rutherford given another opportunity to prove his credentials alongside impressive rookie Tom Latham.
Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor will be expected to provide the majority of runs with the 24-year-old Williamson coming of age this year, having scored 844 test runs, including four centuries, at 60.28.
McCullum`s move back to the middle order from his role as a temporary opener will solidify an already strong tail, who are expertly guided by wicketkeeper BJ Watling.
Their new ball duo of Tim Southee and Trent Boult have also matured in the last two years, with the pair`s ability to exploit New Zealand conditions and get the ball to swing and seam.
Sri Lanka coach Marvan Atapattu has already said his side are partly using the tests to get used to New Zealand conditions, particularly at Hagley Oval where they face the hosts in the opening match of the World Cup on Feb. 14.
However, he is more concerned with finalising his World Cup options, especially in finding an opening partner for Tillakaratne Dilshan.
"We`ll stick to our plans in finding the 15 that we want for the World Cup," Atapattu told cricket website cricinfo.com before a warm-up match in Queenstown.
"We have passed the stage where we`ve tried everybody and we have pruned our squad down to 30.
"In the 30 we know whom we want in our 15 except for one or two places which we hope to fill during the test series."
He also has the added problem of finding someone to fill the hole left by Mahela Jayawardene`s retirement from test cricket, while left arm spinner Rangana Herath will miss the first, and possibly the second, test with a leg injury.
Herath`s absence could be a blessing for New Zealand given he has taken 31 wickets at 19.58 in four tests against the hosts and is the top test wicket taker in 2014 with 60 in 10 matches.