Black Caps expose Lanka’s frailties at Test level | Daily News


Series Review

Black Caps expose Lanka’s frailties at Test level

New Zealand’s deadly pair of opening bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
New Zealand’s deadly pair of opening bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

Following their 3-0 whitewash at home at the hands of England, Sri Lanka was not expected to win in New Zealand under conditions favouring the home side, and so it proved when they lost the two-match Test series 1-0.

To Sri Lanka’s credit it must be said that a 2-0 whitewash was in the reckoning after New Zealand took a massive 296-run first innings lead in the first Test at Basin Reserve, Wellington and then reduced Sri Lanka to 13 for three wickets in the second innings, but the visitors displayed their fighting qualities to deny the home team a win by batting out the entire fourth day and part of the rain-affected fifth and final day to come out with a creditable draw.

The heroes for Sri Lanka in that remarkable fightback was the most experienced campaigner in the Test side former captain Angelo Mathews and the exceptionally talented youngster Kusal Mendis who both hit unbeaten centuries and grounded the New Zealand bowling to the Basin Reserve dust.

The venue is renowned for producing high scores for after the first three days the pitch turns out into a flat surface giving the bowlers little chance of bowling sides out. The most notable instance is the one involving the two countries in 1991 where New Zealand after being dismissed in their first innings for 174 went onto pile up a mammoth 671-4 in the second innings with Andrew Jones and Martin Crowe batting the entire fourth day and part of the fifth in a record third wicket partnership of 467 to draw the Test. Sri Lanka scored 497 in their only innings with Aravinda de Silva making a masterly double century.

What Mendis and Mathews did was perform a similar act like Jones and Crowe to deny New Zealand a win that was on the cards after they picked up the first three wickets cheaply. Both batsmen had a point to prove, Mendis for his inconsistency at the highest level and Mathews for being dropped from the ODI and T20I squad on the grounds of fitness. The determination with which they batted in constructing their contrasting centuries not only saved Sri Lanka from defeat but was expected to give them a morale booster for the second Test at Christchurch where conditions were more in favour of the bowlers.

The confidence they took from that honourable draw at Wellington was continued on the first day of the Christchurch Test when Suranga Lakmal the leader of the pack ran through the New Zealand batting to knock them off for 178 with career best figures of 5/54. Sri Lanka was expected to consolidate on that wonderful start but their batting simply collapsed against the late swing bowling of Trent Boult to hand to the home side an unlikely 74-run first innings lead.

Sri Lanka ended the first day at a promising 88-4 and going by their Wellington performance was expected to at least gain a first innings lead of some sort, but they were simply swept away by Boult who bowled a devastating morning spell taking six wickets for four runs in 15 balls thus setting up a record of taking five wickets off 11 balls, with the last four wickets all falling to lbws and the four dismissed batsmen getting out without scoring.

As the saying goes the first innings of a Test match is always important and when you fall back on it you are always chasing. That is what happened to Sri Lanka. New Zealand given an unlikely surplus of runs on the first innings built on it to put the Test out of Sri Lanka’s grasp. In fact they simply batted Sri Lanka out of the game by piling up a massive 585-4 declared which left the hapless Lankans with an improbable target of 660 to chase or to bat out a shade over two full days.

The task proved beyond them and with their best batsmen in the series Mathews pulling up with a hamstring injury while batting in the second innings the Test was all but won when Sri Lanka ended the penultimate day on 231-6. Their long fragile tail added only a mere five runs on the fifth morning to be dismissed for 236 and hand to New Zealand their biggest win (by runs) - 423 runs in their history.

Sri Lanka’s batting in the second innings was undone by the short pitched deliveries of Neil Wagner who targeted their bodies than the wickets and it paid off handsomely. Being brought up on dusty turning and flat tracks in the subcontinent seldom do the Lankan batters come up against bowling of this nature. They were left to duck and weave and eventually succumb to Wagner’s aggressive tactics which paid off on a track that had vastly improved from the first two days as the New Zealand batsmen displayed in their second innings with two batsmen making big hundreds – Tom Latham (176) and Henry Nicholls (162 n.o.).

The positives for Sri Lanka in the series was the batting of Mathews and Mendis, who at the age of 23 became the youngest batsmen since 2005 (AB de Villiers) to complete 1000 Test runs in a calendar year. In fact only India’s run machine Virat Kohli topped 1000 runs for 2018 apart from Mendis.

The failure of the openers to give the team good starts put undue pressure on the middle order. Dimuth Karunaratne in his new role as vice-captain and Danushka Gunathilaka managed just 5 and 5 runs in partnership in the first Test and, 10 and 1 in the second. In the circumstances Sri Lanka was also handicapped by not having an established batsmen at no. 3. Dhananjaya de Silva failed miserably at Wellington lasting a total of 12 balls in both innings. Skipper Dinesh Chandimal promoted himself to that pivotal position (left vacant by the retirement of the great Kumar Sangakkara) and scored a defiant half century in the second innings which was not good enough to save his side from defeat. Sri Lanka were left still searching for a permanent no. 3 at the end of the series.

The Lankan batsmen displayed their weakness against swing and Boult and Tim Southee were masters of it making life a misery for them with 24 wickets between them in the series.

The bowling of the Lankan seamers in the series left much to be desired. They were inconsistent in their lines and lengths compared to their New Zealand counterparts and, leaked too many runs which the New Zealand batsmen simply lapped up notably Latham who scored a career best 264 (n.o.) at Wellington – the highest score by a Test batsman carrying his bat and, played another monumental innings of 176 at Christchurch – two innings that simply knocked the fight out of the Lankans.

New Zealand ended 2018 on a high under the inspired leadership of Kane Williamson. The series win over Sri Lanka was their fourth successive for the year following 2-0 win over West Indies and 1-0 over England (both at home) and 2-1 over Pakistan in UAE, and elevated them to number three in the ICC Test rankings behind India and England with 107 points. Sri Lanka remain in sixth place with 93.

Sri Lanka’s next opponents are the Australians whom they take on in two Tests at Brisbane and Canberra in January. 

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