Upbeat New Zealand back same squad to deliver against Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka could sneak into the WTC final if they whitewash New Zealand and if Australia are swept by India in the ongoing four-Test series

Published : 1 March 2023, 10:37 AM
Updated : 1 March 2023, 10:37 AM

New Zealand selectors have backed the same squad that held a rampaging England to a 1-1 draw to beat Sri Lanka in the two-Test series starting in Christchurch next week.

They saw no need to tinker after New Zealand pulled off an incredible one-run win in the second Test in Wellington on Tuesday after being asked to follow on by England captain Ben Stokes, coach Gary Stead said.

Opener Devon Conway was nursing a groin strain at the Basin Reserve and paceman Matt Henry had tightness in his back, but both were expected to be fit and available for Christchurch.

Faith in the playing group has been restored quickly, with Stead admitting after the 267-run defeat in the first Test in Mount Maunganui that New Zealand were down on confidence.

"We felt that the 13 that we have here is the right 13 to go forward," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I think when you have a win like that (in Wellington), whether you win or lose, your confidence will improve."

Having won the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) in 2021, New Zealand's title defence is already over, but the Sri Lanka series has ramifications for this year's championship.

Sri Lanka could sneak into the WTC final if they whitewash New Zealand and if Australia are swept by India in the ongoing four-Test series.

India, leading the home series 2-0, need only one more victory to secure their place in the final.

New Zealand will look to regroup for the next WTC but Wellington shed much of the gloom that has engulfed the side since a slew of seasoned players retired or opted out of Test cricket last year.

Kane Williamson scored a century in a welcome return to form while wicketkeeper Tom Blundell had a terrific Test with the bat and behind the stumps.

New Zealand's main concerns lie in their bowling, with quality quicks thin on the ground after Trent Boult's decision to opt out of his national contract and Kyle Jamieson's continuing back problems.

The Black Caps have also been unable to unearth a high-quality all-rounder to replace Colin de Grandhomme and provide support for pacemen Tim Southee, Henry and Neil Wagner.

All-rounder Michael Bracewell laboured in that role in Wellington where his deficiencies as a part-time spinner were exposed and his batting contributed only 46 runs in four innings.

Those concerns were set aside on Wednesday as the team soaked up acclaim in the nation's media for pulling off the 'Miracle at the Basin' and protecting their unbeaten record in home Test series dating back to 2017.

"I think we’ve had (character) in the team all the time I’ve been there," Stead said. "And probably before that as well. When you look back over the last 10 years or so we’ve been a team that have punched above our weight and I think yesterday was a great example of that."