Taylor, Akila leave first Test evenly poised as rain looms

Thursday, 15 August 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Dimuth Karunaratne takes the catch to dismiss New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson, left, as others celebrate during the day one of the first test cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Galle yesterday


Sri Lankan cricket captain Dimuth Karunaratne (L) and New Zealand cricket captain Kane Williamson (R) shake hands as they pose before the start of the first day of the opening Test cricket match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand at the Galle International Cricket Stadium in Galle yesterday


By Madushka Balasuriya in Galle

Rain brought a premature end to an engrossing opening day’s play in Galle, one which would have undoubtedly been New Zealand’s but for the defiance of Akila Dananjaya. Dananjaya, who would end the day with figures of 5 for 57, picked up each of his wickets at the tail-end of the morning and afternoon sessions, while on either side the New Zealand batsmen dominated. An unbeaten 86 by Ross Taylor - the highest score by a New Zealand batsman in Galle - was the highlight for the visitors, as stumps were called on 203/5.

The day, which had started brighter than any leading up to the first Test, saw New Zealand win a crucial toss and bat first. Only seven teams have won batting second in Galle in 32 attempts, and of that seven only three have done it after losing the toss. So on a surface that was initially expected to offer something for the batsmen before deteriorating as the Test wore on, getting runs on the board was always the shrewd option.

With that in mind, New Zealand’s opening pair of Jeet Raval and Tom Latham set about their work; for the first two hours it was old-school Test cricket on display, as Raval and Latham kept risks to a minimum, bade their time and waited on the Lankan bowlers to blink first. As far as a spectacle went, there was not much in the way of excitement, barring the odd well-placed boundary. 

Sri Lankan Captain Dimuth Karunaratne had spoken in the build up to the game of the lessons learnt in the home whitewash to England last year, and it was clear to see Sri Lanka’s tactics in the field were more measured, geared towards keeping runs at a premium.

New Zealand also had in Raval and Latham one of world cricket’s most dependable partnerships; in their last 12 innings the pair have scored 624 runs at an average of 52, second only to Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara - both of whom have the benefit of having batted in much more batting friendly conditions. As such it was unsurprising to see them weather a sluggish pitch and disciplined bowling attack, to notch their fifth 50-plus opening stand in 15 innings.

At 64 for no loss, and just under five overs to go until lunch, the morning session had belonged to the visitors - right up until the point, that is, that it didn’t. In the space of 12 deliveries Akila orchestrated a decisive shift in momentum.

On a surface offering more than a modicum turn, albeit of the slow kind, Dananjaya proved particularly adept at harnessing it. Initially he faltered, bowling too flat and fast, but a change of ends and a slowdown in bowling speed from the low 80kmph range to the mid-70s saw the spinner threaten more edges, strike more pads, and general prove more menacing.

With New Zealand having one eye on the lunch break, he eventually provided a breakthrough, as a slow turner away from the left-handed Latham caught a faint edge through to the keeper. Three balls later, he was at it again, this time the ball holding up just enough to catch Kane Williamson’s leading edge, an easy lobbed catch completed at short midwicket.

This momentum swing brought out the Kiwi nerves, as they tried to play out the final few overs of the session without further drama, but Raval who had done so well to see himself in failed to read a Dananjaya googly, edging one through to first slip just as lunch was called.

Session one had been stolen by the hosts at the death, and it was to be a case of déjà vunext session as well, though Taylor’s innings would ensure the game remained finely poised.

Resuming after the lunch break on 71/3, Taylor, began to take the attack to the Sri Lankan spinners. At that point the field was understandably attacking with singles hard to come by, but this only aided Taylor’s attacking ambitions; one particularly well hit boundary off Lasith Embuldeniya eventually forced Dimuth Karunaratne back on the defensive, and with it the runs began to come more easily.

Taylor alongside Henry Nicholls would proceed to put on 100 for the fourth wicket, as Karunaratne and Sri Lanka proceeded to grow ever more wary of New Zealand’s ballooning total on a difficult surface. But like he had done in the first session, Akila produced in the final few overs of the session, trapping both Nicholls and BJ Watling in front of the stumps on the stroke of Tea.In the final session Taylor continued his charge, this time aided by spinning-allrounder Mitchell Santner. And with a softening ball and a hardening surface, the pair had put on a relatively untroubled 24 when the rains set in and brought play to a close.

Pix by Chamila Karunarathna