Chameera, Herath leave NZ in a daze

New Zealand v Sri Lanka - 2nd Test: Day 2Dushmantha Chameera’s bouncers poked massive holes in the New Zealand batting line-up and left BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner, the final pair of recognised batsmen, on patch-duty in the Hamilton Test. At tea, the hosts were 132 for 5, still trailing Sri Lanka by 159 runs.

The second session today became the fulcrum on which the match spun, and the contrast was stark since Sri Lanka spent the first one almost in slumber. They took 16.1 overs for 28 runs, and lost three wickets to be bowled out for 292. Then they spent the rest of the morning like a lightweight boxer thrown in a heavyweight fight – working within limitations and hoping for a mistake. After lunch, however, Sri Lanka did that thing all Davids do. They punched and punched and punched, and are close to knocking their opponent out.

New Zealand lost five wickets for 72 runs in the second session and that slide began once Angelo Mathews woke up to the fact that he had the fastest bowler in the match. Chameera was kept out of the attack for 20 overs, but he bounced out Tom Latham in minutes. Will the same trick work against the No. 2-ranked batsman in the world? Yes, Kane Williamson was caught at deep square leg for 1. Will it work against a world-record holder? Ross Taylor, who had struck 290 against Australia only last month, bagged a duck. Chameera, with three Tests’ experience behind him, had hustled New Zealand’s in-form batsmen back into the dressing room.

The short-ball template was passed on to Nuwan Pradeep who got McCullum to top-edge a hook to the boundary rider at fine leg, but he had overstepped by an agonising inch. Sri Lanka looked to their senior to be their savior again, and Rangana Herath had McCullum inside edging to silly point seven balls after his reprieve and just minutes before the break.

Chameera was used for only seven overs, and that in itself is remarkable considering he bowled fast, got the ball around the batsman’s ear and rarely missed his mark. The advantage of having 23-year-old legs, perhaps. His fastest of 146 kph came in the sixth over.

By the time Chameera was done, McCullum may well have been nursing a bruised hand considering all the fending he had to do. Taylor and Williamson may be nursing bruised egos, and Latham would have suffered the most pain watching it all from the dressing room since it was his wicket that derailed the innings. He had surveyed the change in field – short leg and leg slip installed close, deep square leg and long leg posted back – and yet the first short ball he got, he tucked it to Dimuth Karunaratne’s hands at leg slip.

Martin Guptill would come in a close second in the ‘why did I play that shot’ lament. He had just completed a pretty fifty, but next ball was caught at slip trying to slog Herath for a six, when long-on and long-off were both back.

Until then the day had gone New Zealand’s way. There were only three Sri Lanka wickets standing when play began half an hour early. New Zealand had seemed content plying Mathews with straight balls – which worked out well for the Sri Lanka captain as he moved to 4000 Test runs – and probing the tailender for the outside edge.

The slips were lined up like a shooting gallery, only these targets wanted to be hit. They were largely for show on the first morning, but in humid conditions and with the seamers deciding to plant six balls on the same spot, business was booming. And their biggest scalp came within the first half hour.

Tom Latham moved to his right to hold on to a low catch and Mathews, the last specialist batsman and a wizard at batting with the most brittle of tails, was walking back having added only 14 to his overnight 67. Southee, who took the wicket, had gone wide of the crease. The ensuing angle was the reason Mathews felt like he had to play, and though he did so with soft hands, New Zealand’s cordon had moved up since the first day when one catch fell short of Ross Taylor at first slip. This one was, in every description, smartly taken.

Another reminder of the first day popped up in the 78th over when a Neil Wagner bouncer struck Suranga Lakmal’s right shoulder, then dropped onto the base of middle stump but the bails would not move. It didn’t cost New Zealand much. Wagner tried the short ball again and Lakmal fended a catch away to gully. Bracewell, as he had done in Dunedin, picked up the last wicket of the Sri Lanka innings.

New Zealand’s openers began steadily in their 81-run stand. The green mask on the Seddon Park pitch had slipped with the sun beating down in Hamilton. Sideways movement, while still present, was diminished. Guptill and Latham spent the first nine overs working that out – 19 runs, with only three fours. Having sussed up the changing conditions, the openers took 42 runs off the next 11 overs, with six fours and two sixes.

The bounce and pace, however, have been outstanding. So Sri Lanka simply set the tearaway loose. (Courtesy Cricinfo)

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