New Zealand vs Sri Lanka
Saxton Oval, Nelson
Tuesday, 8 January, 11:00 Local
The series result may be decided, but both teams still have much to play for. New Zealand have twice mounted totals of 300-plus thus far in the series but have been tested by a plucky Sri Lankan side.
Although results have not been positive for Sri Lanka of late, they will take inspiration from Thisara Perera's one-man show in the previous game, where his 74-ball 140 almost dragged them to a spectacular victory. Consistently relying on individual brilliance is not conducive to finding a winning formula, however, and maintaining high standards with the ball is a must against a star-studded and hungry batting line-up.
Veteran pacer Lasith Malinga's promotion to captaincy might not have impacted his own performances negatively- he returned figures of 2/45 in the second ODI and was the standout bowler- but we are yet to fully get a glimpse of his capabilities as skipper.
He's a seasoned performer and an all-time great in the limited overs arena, but he needs more support from his bowling unit, and at a ripe 35 years of age, he cannot bear all of the burden himself. Drawing the best from starlet Kusal Mendis will also be of vital importance to Malinga.
Jimmy Neesham's contributions with bat and ball have been a highlight of the series (Image: ICC/Getty)
The stylish young batsman, who has previously showcased his abilities against world-class attacks, has failed to pass 20 in the first two matches. Kane Williamson will be asking for more of the same from his batsmen going into this match, as his top order have fired consistently and brutally. A highlight so far has been middle-order finisher and all-rounder Jimmy Neesham, whose two rapid knocks helped propel his side to excellent totals in both matches.
Quelling his threat will be key for Sri Lanka, but making lighter work of the top order should be highest on their list of priorities. Henry Nicholls, yet to transfer his good Test form to the ODI format, is the only out-and-out New Zealand batter not to have put Malinga's men to the sword in this series so far.
Williamson might have had a brilliant tour in terms of results, but the manner in which they fielded in the second ODI was certainly reason for concern. Six catches were dropped and Perera capitalised on the blunders in devastating style, almost snatching the game but falling short by a margin of just 21 - a lucky escape for the home side. Six separate fielders were at fault, and amending that grim statistic with a good showing in the field is imperative.
Ross Taylor (New Zealand): There were no questions about Taylor's aptitude at this level going into this series, having established himself as one of the world's premier ODI batsmen over the years, but this excellent vain of form is reminding everybody just how crucial he is to this New Zealand side. A swift 37-ball 54 delighted the crowd in the first bout, and a measured 90 from 105 in the second game, in more difficult conditions, was testament to the 34-year old's versatility. 19 tons and 45 half-centuries in ODIs for Taylor, and he's still ravenous for runs.
Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka): It's been a harsh start to his captaincy stint for Malinga having only recently returned to the international fold, but with each game serving as a timely learning curve, this match, under less pressure, might see things start to click. His experience, alongside the likes of Dinesh Chandimal, will be key to getting the best of the younger players in the side. In a time of great need, it's time for the mature players to take responsibility.
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