New Zealand 51 for 4 (Taylor 22*, Watling 7*, Lakmal 4-18) v Sri Lanka
This was the morning of Suranga Lakmal’s dreams. He was Sri Lanka’s captain for four of their five home Tests between July and November, and through that spell, often found himself surplus to requirement – the spinners practically yanking the ball out of his hands the moment he had sent down his token new-ball overs. In the lead-up to this Test, it had even been suggested that perhaps Sri Lanka should go with their three young quicks, meaning Lakmal would have had to exit the XI.
But on the kind of green, bouncy surface that Sri Lankan workhorse seam bowlers fantasize about, Lakmal had the ball darting connivingly in both directions, as he scythed through the opposition top four. Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera were constantly breaching the 140kph mark, but it was Lakmal – 10kph slower – who consistently beat the bat, and refused to relieve pressure. Bowling 12 overs on the trot, unchanged through the session, he collected figures of 4 for 18 – with only Ross Taylor from among New Zealand’s batsmen able to withstand his consistency long enough to get past ten runs.
Lakmal’s wicket-balls got better as the session wore on. His first victim, Jeet Raval, was out to what was actually a modest delivery, though Lakmal’s accuracy in the preceding overs perhaps built the pressure that produced that dismissal. Spotting a full delivery on middle and leg, Raval attempted flick to the leg side, but closed the bat-face early, and a leading edge floated out to mid-off where Dinesh Chandimal took a simple catch. New Zealand’s opening stand had been broken in the ninth over.
In his next over, coming from around the wicket to Tom Latham, Lakmal got one to straighten off the deck – the resultant edge snaffled low by a tumbling Kusal Mendis at second slip. The ball that got Kane Williamson came after several tight, tense overs, during which New Zealand’s usually-fluent captain could not score off the first 14 balls he faced. His 18th ball, from Lakmal, was angled in from wide of the crease, and straightened again, to take a thin edge to jubilant wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella. A full house was in at Hagley Oval for Boxing Day, but of all their hushes this morning, this dismissal was met with an almost iron-clad silence.
Lakmal’s last wicket of the morning session was his best of all. Having moved the ball away from the two previous left-handers he had dismissed, Lakmal jagged one deviously back at Henry Nicholls, who attempted a flowing drive, but got nowhere near the ball, which connived its way between bat and pad to tickle the off stump. Next ball, BJ Watling had his outside edge beaten, and Lakmal completed his third wicket-maiden of the morning.
Kumara was the best of Sri Lanka’s other bowlers, cranking the speed gun up to 147kph on occasion, though generally making sure his lines and lengths were acceptable on the kind of track that did not require extraordinary bowling to produce wickets. Dushmantha Chameera, meanwhile, was quick but undisciplined in his first two overs in two years. Virtually all his deliveries were 140kph or faster, but he strayed too often on to Taylor’s pads, and was happily picked off through midwicket, Taylor moving to 22 off 42 by the break.
Angelo Mathews also delivered four overs of serviceable seam bowling. As is often the case in Tests, he kept things tight, created some half chances, and didn’t claim a wicket.