A whirlwind 108-run stand between Tim Southee and BJ Watling were all the resistance New Zealand could muster as Suranga Lakmal completed a second career five-wicket haul, and with the help of Lahiru Kumara, blasted the hosts out for 178 on a Hagley Oval green top.
Lakmal took four wickets in the first session – through which he bowled unchanged – before coming back for a second spell just before tea to take his fifth. His first spell had in fact been an epic – a 16-over unbroken spell, with 12 of those overs having come before lunch.
Since 2001, from when ball-by-ball records exist, no seam bowler has delivered a longer new-ball spell. His returns from that spell were 4 for 42, and at the end of the innings, he had collected a career-best 5 for 54. It was relentless control, and delicious seam movement in either direction that envenomed him. A full quarter of his morning overs had been wicket-maidens.
Southee’s adventurous 68 off 65 balls, populated with mis-hit sixes over fine leg, edges through or over the slips, hoicks falling into space, plus a few shots that he actually meant to play, brought New Zealand roaring back into the game, after they had threatened to be out for double figures, at 64 for 6.
Watling – that perennial rescuer of New Zealand innings – managed 46 off 90 himself, scoring heavily behind square on the off side. But once this seventh-wicket partnership ended, wickets tumbled, as they had before it. New Zealand’s last four fell for six runs, in the space of 16 deliveries. When Southee and Watling were batting, they had seemed headed for a semi-competitive score. In the end, theirs seemed like a sub-par total, even taking the viciously seaming pitch into account.
In the morning, Lakmal’s wicket-balls had got better as the session wore on. His first victim, Jeet Raval, was out to what was actually a modest delivery, though Lakmal’s accuracy in the preceding overs perhaps built the pressure that produced that dismissal. Spotting a fuller delivery on middle and leg, Raval attempted to flick to leg, but closed the bat’s face early, and a leading edge floated out to mid-off where Dinesh Chandimal took a simple catch.
In his next over, coming from around the wicket at Tom Latham, Lakmal got one to straighten off the deck – the resultant edge snaffled low by a tumbling Kusal Mendis at second slip. The ball that got Kane Williamson came after several tight, tense overs, during which New Zealand’s usually-fluent captain could not score off the first 14 balls he faced. His 18th ball, from Lakmal, was angled in from wide of the crease, and straightened again, to take a thin edge to jubilant wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella. A full house was in at Hagley Oval for Boxing Day, but of all their hushes in the morning, this dismissal was met with an almost iron-clad silence.
The best dismissal of the day so far, however, was still to come. Having moved it away from the two previous left-handers he had dismissed, Lakmal jagged one deviously back at Henry Nicholls, who attempted a flowing drive, but got nowhere near the ball, which connived between bat and pad to ping the top of off stump. Watling’s first act had been a play-and-miss at Lakmal too.
The post-lunch session began shoddily for New Zealand, who lost Ross Taylor to a run-out. Backing up too far, Taylor could not get back into his ground when Watling hit a straight drive that collected bowler Lahiru Kumara’s fingers on its way to hitting the stumps at the non-striker’s end. Colin de Grandhomme then departed playing a poorly-conceived pull to a wider Kumara delivery, managing only to send a top edge high to midwicket.
With Lakmal now out of the attack, though, and the inexperienced Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera intent on bouncing the opposition batsmen, Southee came into some quick runs. Three top edges flew over the boundary behind square on the legside. Some adventurous drives yielded boundaries too – those shots going where they were intended, in the arc between long on and midwicket. For the first time, Sri Lanka looked rattled, as Watling also began to score fast runs, taking advantage when the young quicks strayed too far down the off side. The pair’s 108-run stand came off just 121 balls – Southee having progressed to his fifth career half-century.
It took a stunning overhead catch from Danushka Gunathilaka at midwicket to dismiss Southee, off the bowling of Dilruwan Perera, who became the joint-fastest Sri Lanka bowler along with Muttiah Muralitharan to 150 Test wickets, in his 36th Test. Lakmal completed his five-wicket haul on what turned out to be the last ball before tea, having Neil Wagner caught in the cordon. Kumara took the two remaining wickets in the first full over of the final session, having Watling caught at second slip, and Ajaz Patel top-edging a pull to fine leg. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)