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Spin adds to the heat for NZ concern

Colombo: New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said Wednesday his depleted team can overcome the stifling heat and Sri Lanka’s spin web when the two sides clash in their first Test series in six years later this week.

“My greatest challenge is to win Test matches in Sri Lanka,” Fleming said ahead of the first match of the two-Test series starting Friday. “We have a good enough team to win. I am determined to play well and achieve it.”

The last time the two teams met in a Test series was in 1997 when Fleming’s tourists squandered a 1-0 lead by losing the remaining two matches to Arjuna Ranatunga’s home team.

A devastated Fleming could only console himself by ending up as the highest scorer on both sides with 359 runs at a superb average of 71.80 with one hundred and two half-centuries.

The left-hander now seeks revenge despite the absence of three key aides, Chris Cairns, Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan, through injury or poor form.

Fleming knows the key lies in his players handling both the stifling 35 degrees Celsius heat, combined with 90 per cent humidity, and the Sri Lankan spin force led by Muttiah Muralidharan.

A couple of two-day practice matches over the last four days ensured the visitors adjusted to the weather, but tackling spin remains a worry.

New Zealand collapsed for 283 against a local side Tuesday, clearly unable to read leg-spinner Upul Chandana, who forced his way in the Test squad with a five-wicket haul.

Much to the discomfort of New Zealand, the Sri Lankan selectors named four specialist spinners in the 15-man squad for the first Test and hinted at least three of them will play on Friday.

Besides Muralidharan and Chandana, new captain Hashan Tillekeratne also has the luxury of choosing from seasoned off-spinner Kumara Dharmasena and 20-year-old uncapped leggie Kaushalya Lokuarachchi.

Fleming, however, was pleased with the way the tourists shaped up in the two practice games, especially opener Mark Richardson who hit 106 and 93.

“Richardson showed some good form,” he said.

“We came up with some good sides and we have come to grips with the heat to a point. We are reasonably content but there is nothing like what is going to happen in the Test.

“We need big runs, about 500 to win a game over here so the guys spent a long time in the heat to get used to the conditions.”

If the wicket turns a great deal, New Zealand will rely on left-armer Daniel Vettori and recalled off-spinner Paul Wiseman. Their main weapon, however, is fast bowler Shane Bond.

The ever-improving Vettori grabbed 17 wickets in the previous series six years ago, just two less than Muralidharan. Wiseman ended with ten wickets in what was his first Test series.

“Vettori is going to be our key man and Bond bowls pretty quick no matter what surface he plays on,” Fleming said.

New Zealand are one of the few non-Asian team to have done well in Sri Lanka, winning the series 2-0 in 1982 and losing just three of their nine Tests in this country.

The second Test will be played in the hill resort of Kandy from May 3.

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