REUTERS – A positive doping test and questions over a contentious criminal trial in London have threatened to overshadow the first test between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, which begins on Thursday.
The match in Dunedin was supposed to contain the storyline of a Sri Lanka side in transition and a New Zealand team looking to build on the momentum from their series in Australia before a return clash at home next February.
Instead, news broke on Tuesday that Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kusal Perera had tested positive earlier this year for a banned substance and was forced to return home.
Coach Jerome Jayaratne told reporters that Perera had taken medication for an insect bite on his foot, with the belief that the treatment was not on the banned list of substances.
Then on Wednesday, home captain Brendon McCullum was subjected to questions concerning the recent Chris Cairns criminal trial, where the former all-rounder was acquitted of perjury and perverting the course of justice charges.
McCullum was one of two former team mates, along with self-confessed match-fixer Lou Vincent, who gave evidence against Cairns in the trial, accusing him of twice asking him to fix matches.
The 34-year-old McCullum, who will play his 98th test at University Oval, did his best to tone down the outcome of the trial and his role as a witness.
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“It was quite a big deal in New Zealand cricket but I think it’s time to move on,” McCullum told reporters in Dunedin.
“This isn’t the time or place to dive into those types of discussions, that was the court room in London and it’s time to move on,” he repeated.
Despite suffering a 2-0 loss to Australia, McCullum’s side head into the Sri Lankan fixtures as heavy favourites, having been unlucky not to have snatched a share of the spoils across the Tasman as they improved the longer the series progressed.
As well as the dashing strokeplay of Perera at number seven, the visitors have also lost pace bowler Dhammika Prasad to a back injury after their only warm-up match in Queenstown ended in a draw.
The side were already in transition after the international retirements in the last 12 months of two of the game’s all-time greats in Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
Such a blow, of losing the experience gained in accumulating more than 20,000 test runs between the pair, would rip the heart out of most teams and Jayaratne has acknowledged that his side are on a steep learning curve.
Their biggest concern will be the fact that only three of their batsmen, Dimuth Karunaratne, skipper Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, have batted in New Zealand in a test before.
The inexperienced top seven will also come under fire from new-ball pair Tim Southee and Trent Boult, who were building some rhythm against Australia and are likely to relish the more bowler-friendly conditions at home.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)