World Cup 2019: Last Edition's Runners-Up New Zealand Launch Campaign Against Struggling Sri Lanka
New Zealand were agonisingly close to the World Cup title in 2015 while Sri Lanka have been struggling with form and other issues off late.
New Zealand's One-day International (ODI) team has remained quite same in the core as it was in 2015. Kane Williamson has replaced Brendon McCullum as captain from the team that finished as runners-up in the last edition of the World Cup. Four years later, New Zealand start their World Cup 2019 campaign against a struggling Sri Lanka at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, on Saturday. New Zealand, ranked fourth in the ICC ODI rankings, registered comprehensive six-wicket win over India before losing to a batting-heavy Windies by 91 runs in World Cup warm-up. Ninth-ranked Sri Lanka, on the other hand, suffered emphatic losses to South Africa and Australia.
Since the last World Cup, New Zealand have risen as high as second in the world rankings but have also been beaten at home by South Africa, England and India.
Former Kiwi paceman James Franklin is confident Williamson's side can claim their first World Cup trophy.
"New Zealand are in a sweet spot. No one's talking about us too much," he said at the opening party of the 12th edition of the 50-over tournament.
"We're forever the underdogs and that suits us quite well.... If we can get some form going over the next few weeks, there's no reason why New Zealand couldn't go on and win the World Cup."
Taylor has been in breath-taking form in recent years in the one-day game, averaging over 60 in ODIs in 2017 and more than 90 last year.
Williamson, ranked 12th, and Martin Guptill, ranked 10th, are the other main dangermen in the New Zealand batting line-up
Trent Boult leads an impressive bowling attack, with Colin de Grandhomme and Tim Southee for company. Spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner offer useful variety.
"The way T20 cricket goes, it can come down to six or 12 runs at the end of it, and ODI cricket is becoming an extended version of T20 cricket in my opinion," Boult said.
"If you can make those big 17 or 18-run overs into 12-run overs, that can make a big difference in the end. If we're clear on that, we can go a fair way in this tournament."
The Kiwis start clear favourites in their opener against 1996 winners Sri Lanka, a side that has slumped to ninth in the ODI rankings.
Newly appointed captain Dimuth Karunaratne, who has returned to the ODI fold after four years away, has been handed the responsibility of lifting a team that have lost eight of their past nine ODIs.
But Sri Lanka have an impressive World Cup record, with one title, two runners-up finishes and one semi-final appearance.
"Sri Lanka always find a way to do well in World Cups," said former captain Mahela Jayawardene.
"Yes, there have been some different changes to the set-up. The captain himself hasn't played one-day cricket for a while but he's a wonderful player.
"They are trying to bring a bit more stability into the group. You still have some exciting talent -- Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis. There are match-winners in that unit.
"Four/five wins can get you a semi-final berth and Sri Lanka would be looking at that option and try and execute each game at a time. I still feel they have got a very good chance," Jayawardene added.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Tom Blundell (wk), Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham (wk), Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee (vice-capt), Ross Taylor.
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Kusal Perera (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis (wk), Isuru Udana, Milinda Siriwardana, Avishka Fernando, Jeevan Mendis, Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal.
The match starts at 3 PM IST.
(With AFP inputs)