Black Caps skipper wary of wily Muralithan

New Zealand face a severe examination of their skill and stamina as they prepare to take on buoyant Sri Lanka in a two-Test series starting on Tuesday.

New Zealand face a severe examination of their skill and stamina as they prepare to take on buoyant Sri Lanka in a two-Test series starting on Tuesday.

On top of the challenge of playing on unfamiliar wickets in oppressive heat and humidity, Daniel Vettori's Black Caps will be up against a side fresh from a 2-0 series win over Pakistan.

Vettori admitted holding the hosts to two draws would be a good result for his inexperienced team, whose four Test wins over the past two years have included three against lowly Bangladesh.

"You always want to go into a series wanting to win, but if we can pull off a couple of draws or win the series 1-0, that would be an exciting result for this team," the 92-Test veteran said.

New Zealand last won a Test series in Sri Lanka 25 years ago.

Sri Lanka, always formidable opponents at home, defeated Pakistan despite missing master spinner Muttiah Muralitharan due to a knee injury.

The world's most successful Test bowler with 770 wickets, is now back to torment the Black Caps, many of whom have not played the wily off-spinner before.

Said fellow spinner Vettori. "For some of the guys this is the first time they will be seeing Murali."

To counter the problem, the Kiwis hired former Pakistan Test player Saqlain Mushtaq to prepare their batsmen to face the turning ball, especially the 'doosra'.

Also bowling to them in the nets ahead of the series was an unknown 19-year-old English player, Maurice Holmes, whose action resembles Murali's.

New Zealand will, however, take heart from Sri Lanka's vulnerable batting. The side only managed to pass 300 once in six innings against Pakistan.

Kumar Sangakkara's home team could also be unsettled by three consecutive losses to Pakistan in the final two one-day matches and a Twenty20 international over the past 10 days, although they took the one-day series 3-2.

"There are a lot of areas we have to work on to become a consistently winning side," Sangakkara admitted. "The positive thing is we have a great bunch of players willing to stand up and be counted when the chips are down.

- Sapa

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