New Zealand and Sri Lanka will start off their World Cup campaign on June 1 as they face-off at Cardiff. New Zealand had a memorable campaign in the previous World Cup which they co-hosted while Sri Lanka are one of the least fancied sides in the tournament.
When and where to watch
The match begins at the usual 10:30 AM local time and 3 PM IST. Star Sports has dedicated many of its channels to covering the game. Live telecast would be there on Star Sports 1, Star Sports 2, Star Sports 3, Star Sports 1 HD, Star Sports 2 HD and the vernacular channels of the Star Sports network with commentary in their respective languages. Online viewers can catch the game live on Hotstar platform.
New Zealand are, as always, not favourites in the tournament but a team that is capable of beating any opposition. They are missing their inspirational captain Brendon McCullum from the 2015 campaign but still have the quality of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson in the middle order to lead the batting charge.
The opening pair of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro looks threatening but the latter has struggled for runs and seems to throw away his wicket too cheaply. Guptill, though, is a very fine player and the Kiwis will like him to get into form straight away.
The likes of Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Tom Blundell are all in the running for positions in the middle order. Latham has been a very efficient player and so is likely to get in. Henry Nicholls has also been performing really well, so he too should find a spot. Blundell scored a quick hundred in the practice game against West Indies. If the Kiwis want to fit him in the squad, they may drop Munro and push Latham to open with Guptill and give the gloves to Blundell.
In that scenario, there would be a contest between James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme for the all-rounder's spot. The latter looks the likely choice due to some good performances over the last year.
Among the bowlers, Tim Southee and Trent Boult are certain to play and we can be reasonably sure about Mitchell Santner also. While Ish Sodhi seems a more aggressive bowler, he can go for runs while Santner tends to keep batsmen in check and also pick up the odd wicket. The third seamer would be an interesting choice. If New Zealand want extra pace, they can opt for Lockie Ferguson. But chances are that Matt Henry, who is also sharp in speed and can get some swing, would take that spot.
For Sri Lanka, the most important batsman would be Kusal Mendis. He is undoubtedly the future leader of the batting department of Sri Lanka. He was also the only batsman who performed well in the ODI series his team played in South Africa earlier this year. But there would be a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Angelo Mathews also. With no Dinesh Chandimal, the veteran batsman has to lead the way. Hopes would be high from Kusal Perera also. He has been a massive underachiever but his legendary innings earlier this year to win a Test against South Africa suggested he has turned a corner. This could be the stage for him to prove that knock wasn't a fluke.
Dimuth Karunaratne has been an excellent performer in Tests through 2018 but hasn't quite shown the same form in ODIs. As the captain, he will be expected, as will be Lahiru Thirimanne, to raise their game. Dhananjaya de Silva's match-saving hundred in a Test against India suggested great potential but not much else has transpired in his favour since then. In short, this doesn't look like a strong batting line-up. There is talent and some experience but past performances don't suggest that they will be setting the ground on fire. However, it only takes a couple of great individual efforts to lift a team and the likes of Kusal Perera and Mendis can provide that.
Unfortunately for the Lankans, their bowling inspires even less confidence. While Lasith Malinga is still there, he is a shadow of his former destructive self. Suranga Lakmal becomes effective if there is cloud cover, but seems more suited to Tests than ODIs. The spin-department, uncharacteristically, seems very timid. Jeevan Mendis and some all-rounders are all that they have got for tweakers and they are hardly going to worry anyone.
So, New Zealand are the firm favourites. It would take a special effort for Sri Lanka to win this match. But then, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.
Players to watch
Kane Williamson: According to many, the best batsman his country has ever produced, Williamson has the enviable quality of being able to score quickly without seeming to take any risk. A wonderful player of spin, Williamson has been a consistent performer and may well lead the way by starting the World Cup campaign with a hundred.
Kusal Mendis: In the 5-match ODI series played against South Africa, Mendis looked very capable but three run-outs didn't allow him to get a big score. Being the best batsman, arguably, in the Lankan team, this could be the stage where he strikes it big.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson (C), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell (WK), Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Trent Boult
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (C), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Perera (WK), Milinda Siriwardana, Jeevan Mendis, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga