Dickwella, Lakmal battle back after Ajaz five-for

Friday, 16 August 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Niroshan Dickwella and Suranga Lakmal cheer each other at the end of the day two of the first test cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Galle yesterday  

New Zealand bowler Ajaz Patel takes a catch to dismiss Dhananjaya de Silva of Sri Lanka during the First Test match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand at Galle

By Madushka Balasuriya 

An unbeaten 66-run partnership for the eighth wicket between Niroshan Dickwella and Suranga Lakmal ensured that Sri Lanka were left with a fighting chance at stumps on the second day of the first Test in Galle. At the end of

Angelo Mathews raises his bat after scoring a half century during the day two of the first test cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Galle yesterday 
Sri Lankan cricketer Kusal Mendis (L) celebrates after scoring a half-century (50 runs) as Angelo Mathews (R) looks on during the second day of the opening Test cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand at the Galle International Cricket Stadium in Galle on August 15, 2019 - AFP 

play the hosts were 227/7, 22 runs behind New Zealand’s first innings 249.

Such a small deficit however, had been but a remote possibility some 90 minutes earlier, when Sri Lanka had lost five wickets for just 18 runs to leave them reeling on 161/7. The brunt of the damage had been done by the excellent Ajaz Patel, who ended with figures five for 76.

Patel had sprung into action in his very first over, deceiving an advancing Lahiru Thirimanne with flight, dip and turn, to have the left-hand opener stumped for 10. Later he would outfox a settled Dimuth Karunaratne, with one that pitched just outside off, but spun in quick and low, to have the Sri Lankan captain trapped LBW for a well-made 39.

Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis would then put together what, at that point, seemed the defining partnership of the Sri Lankan innings. Interspersing long periods of dot deliveries with the odd boundary, it was a partnership of feast and famine, a somewhat natural response to the continuing in-out field set by New Zealand, which sought to restrict singles and boundaries, while at the same time forcing the batsmen into errors.

Nevertheless for most of the post-lunch session both Mathews and Mendis had reeled in their attacking instincts, successfully weathering over upon over of spin, on a surface which was progressively adding bounce to its already significant turn. Mendis in particular looked in fine touch, frequently releasing the pressure valve with well-placed strokes square on either side of the wicket; having endured a tough couple of months on the field, he looked something close to his best, particularly when pulling the express Tim Southee and Trent Boult.

But it was the mental toll of pretty much constant defence against the nagging lines of Patel and Co. which eventually did Mendis in. It was the type of stroke many of his detractors have used to beat him with relentlessly; on the stroke of tea, it was yet another looped off spinner outside off, one which Mendis had done well to leave alone on so many prior instances that day - but this time he swung his bat, a full-blooded cover drive was what he likely sought. All he managed was a thick edge to slip.

Mendis’ wicket brought to an end a 77-run partnership which had threatened to take the game away from New Zealand. Instead, it was New Zealand that would now seize control, as Kusal Janith Perera, Dhananjaya De Silva, Mathews and Akila Dananjaya all fell within an hour of the start of the final session. 

Still 88 runs short of New Zealand’s first innings total, giving away a deficit that sizeable would have almost certainly ended Sri Lanka’s chances of gaining anything from this Test. However Dickwella and Lakmal’s doggedness would see to it that it wasn’t to be.

Lakmal to his credit has prior form in this regard, having just last year put forth a similar rear-guard effort against South Africa. Dickwella however, was a surprise. Frequently lambasted for his reckless batting style, and forever guilty of throwing his wicket away, the brash left-hander this time showed previously unseen resolve. Yes, he still looked for the sweep and reverse sweep. Yes, he ramped a seamer over the wicket-keeper’s head for a boundary. But 39 runs off 74 balls speaks louder, and signals just how willing he was to simply dead bat the good deliveries and milk the rest.

Earlier in the day, a Thirimanne brain-fade aside, the morning session had belonged almost in its entirety to Sri Lanka. Following on from Akila Dananjaya’s exploits the previous day, Lakmal was finally rewarded for his tireless day one effort, picking up four wickets on the second morning as New Zealand’s tail was summarily dealt with the minimum of fuss. 

Lakmal was also responsible for the morning’s biggest scalp – the in-form Ross Taylor in the second over of the day – though it owed more to a rare lapse in concentration by Taylor, whose loose attempt at a cut outside off stump only managed to find the edge through to the keeper. He departed without adding anything to his overnight 86.

It was that wicket that ultimately allowed Sri Lanka the opportunity to restrict the visitors to 249, a total the hosts would have gladly taken having lost the toss and, subsequently, the chance to bat first. And it might have been even better for them if not for the late order efforts of Tim Southee and Trent Boult who scored 14 and 18 respectively, to boost New Zealand’s final total, and with it keep the game finely poised.

Pix by Chamila Karunarathna