Good things come to those who wait. It took nearly the entire final day, but New Zealand clinched a memorable 167-run victory over Sri Lanka in Colombo to end a 10-month winning drought.
Trent Boult took the final wicket of a defiant Angelo Mathews in the 86th over, dismissing Sri Lanka for 195 as New Zealand roared back from a 10-wicket defeat in Galle to square the two-test series at P Sara Oval.
It also ended a grim five-test losing streak and gave coach Mike Hesson his first success after a rough introduction.
Mathews defied the bowlers in a knock of 84 off 228 balls before he was last out, swinging wildly.
There were several New Zealand stars but the new ball pair of Boult and Tim Southee shone brightest, under Shane Bond’s tutelage.
They took 15 wickets between them, Boult 7-75 for the match and Southee 8-120.
At 23, Southee is at the peak of his powers as the pace spearhead and left-armer Boult was an outstanding foil.
As Southee tired late in the day, Boult kept charging in and consistently topped 140kmh, then finished the job with the second new ball.
Test centuries and bags of wickets usually win tests; and New Zealand had seen precious few of either in a gloomy 2012.
Captain Ross Taylor responded to the barbs directed at him and his team with two captain’s knocks, 142 and 75, to give his bowlers something to aim at.
With runs on the board, captaincy becomes so much simpler.
He had excellent backup from Kane Williamson who emerged from a lean trot with his third test ton, and five catches including two brilliant efforts at gully.
The plunder at P Saravanamuttu might not be greeted with the same hysteria as the Bellerive boilover, nearly a year ago, but it was the better victory.
The Hobart test was played on a green seamer, a great leveller.
To topple Sri Lanka in Colombo’s heat and humidity, on a docile pitch against a powerful batting lineup boasting Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene was some effort.
Yesterday’s task seemed relatively straightforward given the way New Zealand had taken the first 14 Sri Lankan wickets.
They had 98 overs to snare six more scalps, including the tailenders. But nothing is ever simple with this team.
It was hard toil on a dustbowl that offered little joy. No deliveries shot along the ground or spat at the batsman with venom.
New Zealand’s only joy of the first session was a gift from first innings topscorer Thilan Samaraweera.
He pushed to cover and ran, only to find Mathews leaning on his bat at the other end and Jeetan Patel pouncing on the ball.
As the dead bats of Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene kept thudding the worn Kookaburra into the dirt, the first doubts emerged.
The pair added 56 for the sixth wicket and the tourists were counting the overs till the second new ball.
Taylor tried pace, spin, and even Daniel Flynn, the left-armer who’d taken one first-class wicket.
But spin did the trick, from the wrist of Todd Astle who’d bowled 21 wicketless overs in a handy debut which featured a gritty 35 alongside his skipper on Wednesday.
He suddenly became Taylor’s go-to man, ahead of Patel.
Not since Brooke Walker in Lahore in 2002 had a leg-spinner twirled for New Zealand.
Astle was too short at times, too full at others, but crucially got the ball to turn. He finally got one to bite and bounce at Jayawardene and Kruger van Wyk gloved it safely. Jubilation.
When Boult found the edge of Suraj Randiv’s bat four overs later at 122-7, the end was nigh, and the final new Kookaburra finished it. (Fairfax NZ News)