Fri, 13 Dec 2019

New Zealand bat, both teams pick three spinners

14 Aug 2019, 17:42 GMT+10

3:00 AM ET

Lunch New Zealand 71 for 3 (Taylor 6*, Akila 3-28) v Sri Lanka

Akila Dananjaya dragged Sri Lanka ahead in the first session, snagging Tom Latham and Kane Williamson in the space of four balls, before dismissing Jeet Raval off the last ball of the session to neutralise what had otherwise been an impressive New Zealand start. Having opted to bat and put on 64 for the opening stand, New Zealand went to lunch 71 for 3, a sequence eerily similar to their Dubai Test against Pakistan last year, when they'd folded for 90 after a half-century stand from the same openers.

Raval and Latham had settled nicely into a pattern of old-fashioned Test cricket, matching Sri Lanka's discipline in the first hour before opening up to put up their fifth stand of 50 or more in their last 15 innings. But on a pitch that had begun turning big inside ten overs, Akila figured his way to first squaring Latham up and then slowing the ball down to induce a soft shot from Williamson. The resulting pressure even got to Raval, who edged to slip chasing outside off what looked like a googly.

Akila was the most effective of Sri Lanka's three spinners, although it did take him a few overs to find the right pace to extract turn on the pitch. Having come on as early as the 8th over, his flat trajectory was serving both batsmen's compulsion for the paddle and lap sweeps. But, with a change of end and more flight, and speeds closer to 75kph, he caused them trouble. With prodigious turn away, the openers were keen to continue offering angled bats, but the slowness had them getting down for sweeps earlier than needed, putting their leading edges in danger on a few occasions. Consequently, straighter bats were offered, and this brought Akila back in. He managed to get past the outside edge several times and eventually had Latham poking away from the body after turning one past the corridor.

Williamson was met with a short leg, a leg slip, and a catching midwicket when he came in. Persisting with his slow pace, Akila had Williamson adjusting to play late after he had premeditated and planted his front foot. With the ball not quite coming on, and with the danger of the two close catchers, Williamson could only muster a weak lash at the ball, closing the face much before it arrived. Dimuth Karunaratne gratefully accepted a simple lob at short midwicket.

Ross Taylor and Raval tried to run down the clock to turn the three remaining overs into two, but Sri Lanka's rapid over rate in the second hour of the session paid off. Having snuck in one more over and built enough pressure, they had Raval push at one outside off stump for what seemed the first time in all of the 83 balls he faced. In 15 minutes, the match had changed for New Zealand. Fittingly, the dark clouds had showed up by the end of a session that began warm and sunny.

Akila had found little support from the other end. Sri Lanka bowled all five of their main bowling options, including all three of their spinners. None of them had particularly bad periods with the ball, but neither were they particularly menacing. Lakmal's economy was part discipline, part bowling too wide: at one point, Latham had left more than half the deliveries he bowled. Lahiru Kumara hit the 140s with impressive consistency, but his lengths were either short or full, with nothing in the middle. So while Sri Lanka had movement from one end, and pace from the other, the new-ball pair never quite came together to consistently trouble the openers. Left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya and offspinner Dhananjaya de Silva couldn't find their rhythms in the combined seven overs they bowled.

It was during this phase that Raval and Latham began milking the hard work they'd put in. In the first hour, they'd put up only 21 runs, waiting and watching on the back foot for short stuff and width. Sri Lanka didn't bowl too many loose deliveries, but each one was punished. With that test negotiated, Raval even took some chances: he planted the front foot down against Dhananjaya to first drive him wide of mid-off, and then lofted him over the same fielder a few balls later. In the next over, Latham crunched Akila to deep square's right with a ferocious sweep, and New Zealand looked set to go off the happier team. All it took to change that was one wicket.

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