New Zealand recorded an amazing 2-1 victory over hosts Pakistan in UAE late last year. This was a monumental win as teams from outside the subcontinent don't usually get the better of Asian sides in latter's home conditions. But the Kiwis put up a resilient performance and, led by Kane Williamson, were able to overcome the tough challenge presented by players like Yasir Shah.
Now, the New Zealanders are back in Asia, this time to take on the Sri Lankans. On paper, the islanders may look a much weaker side than Pakistan. But this team defeated South Africa 2-0 in their own backyard earlier this year. Taking them lightly is just not an option.
These two Tests will also kick-start the campaign of these two teams in the World Test Championship. So, what to expect in this contest? Well, let us summarize it for you in 9 simple points.
1. Will Kane shine again?
All eyes would be on Kane Williamson. As the best player of spin in the team, he has to lead the charge of batting. Having earned a legion of fans after the World Cup, his progress would be followed by a large number of fans. However, if his team has to win, then also he has to set an example. Since his great rivals Virat Kohli and Steve Smith are showing great form, he too would like to assert himself by getting another Test ton in his record.
2. Who will be Sri Lanka's spinners?
With Rangana Herath no longer there, a question mark hangs over the Sri Lankan spin bowling attack. The three frontline spinners picked in the 15-man squad for the first Test include Lasith Embuldeniya, Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan. The last two have had some success at this level while the first is still a bit of an x-factor. Sri Lanka are now searching for a long-term reliable spin-bowling option. How these spinners perform will be crucial.
3. Sri Lankan pacers
Lahiru Kumara has some talent and pace as well. Suranga Lakmal can be very handy in helpful conditions. Vishwa Fernando is yet to prove himself. Hence, the pace attack looks rather docile. But Kumara is one bowler who may make some impact.
4. Will Chandimal get redemption?
After being left out of the team and missing World Cup as well, Sri Lankan selectors have brought back Dinesh Chandimal. It is an acknowledgement of the need for experience in the batting line-up as well as the undeniable class of the former captain. This series is an opportunity for redemption as far as Chandimal is concerned. Will he succeed?
5. Who will 'swing it' for the Kiwis?
The New Zealand bowlers such as Trent Boult and Tim Southee have proven deadly in swing-friendly conditions. Can they replicate their efforts on dry pitches? Southee once picked up a 5-for in India while Boult too has developed ways to get wickets on dry pitches. But the key man could be Neil Wagner with his ability to bowl tirelessly on unresponsive wickets.
6. Who will keep wickets for NZ?
BJ Watling has been a great performer for his team. But Tom Blundell has also shown great talent. New Zealand will have a tough time choosing befween the two. Watling, thanks to his experience, could be retained.
7. Will Kusal fire again?
After frustrating his fans and admirers for a long time thanks to penchant for careless shots, Kusal Janith Perera finally showed his true quality and played an amazing innings against South Africa to snatch a 1-wicket win. This innings has immortalized Perera. But he also needs to become more consistent and reliable. Otherwise, he will be remembered as another Shahid Afridi in the making and his innings against South Africa a fluke.
8. Which spinner would Kiwis choose?
New Zealand have picked four spin-bowling options in their squad: Mitchell Santner, Todd Astle, Will Somerville and Ajaz Patel. The latter bowled nicely in UAE last year while making his debut in the first Test. Somerville came in for the last game and picked up 4-more. Astle has, interestingly, played a Test in Sri Lanka before. Considering how well he bowled in the World Cup and his overall record with New Zealand, Santner might be the preferred option.
9. The pitches
Sri Lanka have sought to maximise their home advantage by preparing dustbowls over the last year or so for their home Tests. That trend is likely to continue. On a flat deck, Sri Lanka were able to bat out a large period of time to draw a Test in New Zealand. So, it's either going to be flat or dusty, no sign of grass is likely.