Tea Sri Lanka 167 for 4 (Mathews 71*, Chandimal 6*, Southee 3-43) v New Zealand
What was increasingly looking like a glorious afternoon for Sri Lanka in the Wellington sun turned slightly sour when an ultra-aggressive approach felled Dimuth Karunaratne to break a 133-run stand with Angelo Mathews. And just like that, the match was back in the balance, after Sri Lanka had threatened to break away. At tea, they had progressed to 167 for 4, with Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, arguably two of their most-accomplished batsmen, at the crease.
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The trigger was pulled by Neil Wagner, as he often does when New Zealand go through a wicketless phase. The method: a predictable, yet fearsome short-ball barrage from around the stumps to attack the batsman's ribs. In this case, Karunaratne may have been buoyed by two neat pull shots to the boundary; he wasn't third-time lucky, as he gloved one through to BJ Watling down the leg side. The next half-hour saw a number of plays and misses, as if the pitch had flicked itself to turn green once again, but there were no further losses as both batsmen managed to hang on.
New Zealand would be a tad disappointed at their lines and lengths in the first hour after lunch. Sri Lanka were helped partly by Trent Boult's inability to find his rhythm. In searching for late swing, he was either too full or too wide. Once this plan didn't work, he went short, and saw both batsmen use their experience to play neatly off their hips.
Mathews, the only Sri Lankan batsman to make a century in their lone tour game, used his experience and just a half-press to negate this line of attack to be unbeaten on 71. Karunaratne, on his second trip to New Zealand, and a far-more mature avatar of the man who toured here in 2015, made 79 and looked set for much more before biting Wagner's bait. Chandimal somehow survived a testing spell of high-intensity short-pitched bowling to stay unbeaten on 6.
That he was given an opportunity to make these many was down to a huge dollop of luck. In the 20th over, he flicked a delicious full toss off Colin de Grandhomme to midwicket. As he tucked the bat under his arm pit and started to walk off, he heard two magic words from the umpire: 'stay there.' Stay he did, as de Grandhomme had overstepped, and made New Zealand pay. Sri Lanka could've been 56 for 4. Instead, they proceeded to frustrate the home team with a century stand.
Kane Williamson's use of Ajaz Patel was in stark contrast to his methods in the UAE, where spin was introduced at the first opportunity. Here, all Ajaz had to do was hold one end up for four wicketless overs. He opened up an opportunity to fell Mathews, when the batsman attempted a hoick, but it landed short of midwicket off a thick inside edge. This was Mathews' only little blemish in a session where he traded quick run-scoring for the hard grind and profited immensely.
This approach was needed especially after Sri Lanka lost their top three inside six overs. Southee, left out of two Tests in the UAE to accommodate an extra spinner, showed why he's king in conditions where batsmen have no more than a split-second to cover swing and the wily angles he offers through superb use of the crease. His magnificent opening spell of 6-2-16-3 gave Sri Lanka the early shivers.
Danushka Gunathilaka brought his bat across the pad in trying to negate late inswing and was pinned plumb in front. Dhananjaya de Silva was squared up by an outswinger that he nicked to Watling, while Kusal Mendis flicked a full delivery that swung away a hint to short midwicket. At 9 for 3, Sri Lanka needed their veteran Mathews to step up, and he gave them a glimmer of hope and a lesson for the others to emulate going forward.