Of Shampoo and Bold Selections

New Zealand will be mightily pleased with their 4-1 series win against Sri Lanka. Two major positives emerged, namely Daniel Vettori’s captaincy and the performances of Peter Fulton.

Vettori had the reins against Australia and looked a very competent leader, mixing up his tactics and showing coolness under pressure. With Stephen Fleming unavailable through paternity leave for the first two matches, Vettori built on this with two wins, although he rarely had to get out of first gear in Queenstown.

Fleming’s late arrival for the last two matches seemed to slow New Zealand’s momentum, with lack of match practice and the truncated nature of his participation evident in both his batting and communication in the middle. It surely would have made sense to let Vettori continue and give Fleming a chance to just get back in the groove of international cricket. A rather sheepish Fleming acknowledged that Vettori should be the one holding up the trophy at the after-match presentation.

The selection of rookies Fulton and Jamie How brought a collective sigh of relief from many cricketing circles. Dropping the senior duo of Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle illustrated that no player was assured his place no matter what your experience. How demonstrated good technique and application with his debut innings of 58 but perished from poor shot selection when he batted again. He looks a good prospect and will learn from the experience.

Fulton may have solved New Zealand’s long-term need for a quality top order batsman.

Unfazed by the challenges of Muttiah Muralitharan or Chaminda Vaas, Fulton drove and pulled with a confidence that belittled his rookie status. At 26 he looks to have complete understanding of his game and should kick on from this series. A tally of 288 runs at 88 was a fantastic return for a genuine star in the making.

Injuries to key players threatened to derail New Zealand’s performances halfway through the series, with Jacob Oram, Kyle Mills and Scott Styris picking up niggles. Shane Bond gained more speed and accuracy as the games progressed and was the Black Caps’ top performer. By Napier he looked close to his best.

Sri Lanka will be very disappointed with their efforts. They won the final game but looked short on match practice despite playing a series in India last month. Upul Tharanga showed what a classy player he can be with a second century. Captain Marvan Atapattu was their most consistent batsman, while Chaminda Vaas reminded us of his brillance with two match-turning displays.

New Zealand gained much-needed confidence, a series victory and a good batting prospect. Sri Lanka took a heart-warming win in Napier, unearthed a good young top-order player and let Sanath Jayasuria slip in a shower.

I’ll let you be the judge who came out on top.

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