Finally, the long wait has almost come to an end and we are just two days away from the beginning of the ICC World Cup 2015. Total of 49 matches will be played throughout the tournament including the final, which is scheduled to take place on March 29th at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Going through all the teams, it looks like that it’s going to be an open tournament as most of the top eight nations are favourites to win it. Of course, the best team will win, but more importantly, the journey throughout this one and a half months is expected to be great. And to begin it, let us get across to the team highlights of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, who will lock horns in the first match of the tournament on February 14th at Hagley Oval, Christchurch.

Team Guide

New Zealand:

The Black Caps are one of the potential contenders to lift the title this time. Just like Australia, they have quite a few specialists among their ranks who can lead them to glory. In batting, skipper Brendon McCullum will open the innings with Martin Guptill and this actually can be a deadly lethal combination, given the form the duo are in. Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham are the other prime batsmen in the squad. Vice-Captain Williamson has been in the form of his life in the past one year. He has scored truck loads of runs across all formats of the game. Same has been the case with Ross Taylor. He has become New Zealand’s mainstay batsman at number four and the team’s batting revolves around him. Tom Latham is a highly talented young batsman who is slowly but surely coming to terms in the ODI Cricket.

In bowling section, talent is combined with vast experience. Pacer Kyle Mills and slow left-arm bowler Daniel Vettori share 456 ODIs between them and they would be itching to give their everything in what might be their last major tournament for New Zealand. Tim Southee and Trent Boult, the backbone of their Test attack, will most probably share the new ball here also and strike early with it. Mitchell McClenaghan, currently one of the genuine wicket-taker’s in cricketing world, could well be McCullum’s go to men in the event. The other bowlers in the squad are Adam Milne and Nathan McCullum.

In all-rounder’s department, New Zealand have two of the best men in the name of Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott, who can chip-in with both bat and ball irrespective of the conditions. Both can hit some lusty blows at the end of the innings and can also change gears if there is an early collapse. Wicket-Keeper batsman Luke Ronchi has also been in great form and he is also very much capable of building an innings if the team loses quick wickets.

Sri Lanka:

The Lankan Lions are the most experienced in terms of numbers in this year’s event. The 15-members of their squad share a total of 2071 matches between them. But more importantly, this time around three of their key players Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan will be playing their last World Cup. The three of them were also part of the side that lost in the finals of the ICC World Cup 2007 and 2011. So, with nothing to lose this time, the three of them will look to play freely and seal the deal for their team after a gap of almost 19 years.

Apart from them, the rest of the squad looks pretty decent and capable enough to pull off some great victories. Lahiru Thirimanne, hopefully the next Sangakkara in making, is expected to share the responsibility of opening the innings with Dilshan ahead of Dimuth Karunaratne. Skipper Angelo Mathews will look to bind together the middle-order along with Dinesh Chandimal so that the all-rounder’s Thisara Perera and Jeevan Mendis would be able to hit some lusty blows at the end of the innings. In bowling, Lasith Malinga, who remained out of action for three months due to an ankle surgery, is now fit and raring to get back into some serious action. Nuwan Kulasekara has finally found his swing back, so, he along with Suranga Lakmal and Dushmantha Chameera (Dhammika Prasad’s replacement) will look to complement Malinga well.

In spin-department, Sri Lanka currently have probably the two best spinners in the cricketing world in the name of Rangana Herath and Sachitra Senanayake. Both are capable of deceiving any batsmen on any track and even in the less spin-friendly conditions, it looks like that Mathews will still fancy both of them in the playing eleven.      

World Cup History (of their encounters):

1979: New Zealand won by 9 wickets (Nottingham)

1983: New Zealand won by 5 wickets (Bristol)

          Sri Lanka won by 3 wickets (Derby)

1992: New Zealand won by 6 wickets (Hamilton)

2003: Sri Lanka won by 47 runs (Bloemfontein)

2007: Sri Lanka won by 6 wickets (St. George’s)

          Sri Lanka won by 81 runs (Kingston)

2011: Sri Lanka won by 112 runs (Mumbai)

          Sri Lanka won by 5 wickets (Colombo)

Team News:

New Zealand have been on a role across all formats in the past one year. The mood in the camp is good and the team looks ready for the World Cup. Recently, they defeated Sri Lanka (4-2) at home. As far as the fitness of their players are concerned, everyone is fit and ready to perform.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka have a bit to ponder over their playing eleven. The ODI series loss against New Zealand and the defeat against Zimbabwe in World Cup warm-up match would have affected their confidence a lot but they’ll have to leave everything behind now and get their act together. Regarding the fitness issues, Dhammika Prasad, who was one of their best bowlers in the past one year, was ruled out with a broken hand suffered in training and Dushmantha Chameera was named as his replacement.

Key Players to watch Out For

New Zealand: Kane Williamson

Williamson is currently having the best time of his life with the bat and he’ll hope to continue it in World Cup too. In the recently concluded series against Sri Lanka, Williamson scored 293 runs in 5 matches at an impressive average of 59.00 with a century and two half-centuries. His role will again be to anchor the innings and if New Zealand are to end their World Cup voodoo on their own turf this month, then surely Kane Williamson will be the man to help them do it.

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews

In 2014, 10 months after being named the captain of the Sri Lankan team, Angelo Mathews hit the cricketing world with an all-format yearlong crescendo. Hardly there was a series in which Mathews failed to score runs. All through his journey, it was ability to score in tough times that defined him. When a chase is afoot or a tall task is at hand, Mathews comes out all guns blazing and seals the deal for his team and the same would be required of him in the World Cup too.

Key Battles to Watch Out For

Kumar Sangakkara v Mitchell McClenaghan:

Sri Lanka’s run-machine will be up against New Zealand’s newly found wicket-taking machine. It’s going to be a great battle as both are in good form and the one who will handle the pressure well at the start of their respective disciplines might well end the day well for his team. Will McClenaghan trouble Sangakkara with his pace and swing or will Sangakkara smash McClenaghan all round the park? Well, the time will tell about that.

Ross Taylor v Lasith Malinga:

The fulcrum of New Zealand’s batting will be up against the Slinga Malinga, who has just made his comeback in the warm-up games from a three month injury layoff. It can be said with utmost surety that if New Zealand are to score heavily at the death, then Taylor would have to play Malinga pretty well. In past, Taylor has, on most occasions, had an answer to Malinga’s variations and it would be interesting to see as to who wins the battle on the big stage.  

Probable Playing XI

New Zealand:

Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan

Sri Lanka:

Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Sachitra Senanayake, Suranga Lakmal

Time 03:30 IST

Pitch and Conditions

The pitch at Hagley Oval is expected to assist the swing bowlers, so given Sri Lanka’s recent troubles against high-quality swing bowling at this venue, Mathews may think twice before batting first. Also, the chances of a Duckworth-Lewis intervention are pretty high.