Day Three in Galle: Watling stabilises New Zealand

Danny Byrne  “Watling bats New Zealand into a strong position at the end of another fiercely competitive day”

The new ball was taken immediately play began this morning by Trent Boult from the Fort End. Ajaz had bowled all his 29 overs yesterday from the Fort End and for some reason he decided to have a go from the Pavilion End this morning. Lakmal threw the kitchen sink at a Boult bouncer while closing his eyes and the ball flew over deep fine leg for a six to reduce the New Zealand lead to only 10. Boult’s bouncers were hitting arms and helmets and the medical advisor was on the pitch twice in the first half hour. Two balls after his second visit to check on Lakmal the tall Sri Lankan played on to a wide delivery having scored a valuable 40 from 98 balls ( 242 – 8 ). Dickwella used his feet well to hit Ajaz with the spin over mid-wicket for a boundary before completing his half century from 95 balls which surprisingly for him included only two boundaries.

While Somerville replaced Ajaz, Boult continued from the Fort End and managed to hit Embuldeniya on his injured hand with a rising delivery. The physiotherapist was on the field again and the interruptions were clearly not helping Dickwella’s concentration. As soon as play resumed Dickwella was caught by Williamson at short extra cover attempting a lofted drive to Somerville ( 262 – 9 ). Embuldeniya managed to nod the ball over the slips with his helmet and Michael Gough mysteriously signaled four runs off the bat. Somerville finally claimed the last wicket when Embuldeniya was plumb lbw attempting a sweep and the Sri Lankans were all out for 267 off 93.2 overs with an overall lead of 18.

Dananjaya opened the bowling with Lakmal making Kumara’s selection effectively superfluous. The New Zealand batsmen started cautiously scoring 7 runs from the first 7 overs. Raval played a poor shot driving an ordinary delivery from de Silva straight to Karunaratne at short extra cover ( 8 – 1 ). The Bar opened at 11 am and there was a promotion for Tiger Beer at a discount price. The only problem was that the Bar Staff didn’t have the key to the store room where all the crates were stacked and no-one could find Terry. Lunch was eventually taken with the score 18 – 1 from 13 overs and after seven sessions of play the scores were level. A band started playing at the back of the Galle CC Stand during the interval and they were woeful. The PA system was still blasting out different tunes in front of where I was sitting and the combination of the two was truly awful. In the UK there are laws to do with noise pollution and the desecration of music to prevent things like this from happening.

Play resumed at 12.40 pm and the Band continued as if playing in a public park. Williamson tried to hit Embuldeniya for a straight six but failed to get to the pitch of the ball and ended up with only one hand on the bat as the ball sailed in the direction of long-on only to be brilliantly caught by Kusal Perera while running backwards ( 20 – 2 ). Two minutes after the New Zealand captain left the field there was an almighty sound of static electricity exploding as if a speaker had possibly blown. For all I know Kane might have hurled his bat at the fuse box but at least we no longer had to listen to the band. The problem was we’d lost the lights and the TV Replay screen and heaven forbid the fridge behind the Bar might also be affected.

The silence was wonderful but it clearly unnerved Ross Taylor as he chased a wide ball from Embuldeniya and was caught at slip ( 24 – 3 ). Latham was nearly caught at leg slip just after Nicholls came to the crease but the pair of left-handers managed to put on 57 for the fourth wicket before Latham was caught low in the gully by Thirimanne off Dananjaya for 45 ( 81 – 4 ). With the only scoreboard in the ground located under our stand and with my score sheets all over the place following a mistake with two left-handers at the crease, no-one knew what the correct score was until the electricity suddenly returned about an hour after it had first gone off. Watling was given out lbw by Illingworth to Embuldeniya but fortunately for New Zealand the batsman immediately called for the DRS and was reprieved due to a thick inside edge. The band had started playing again and the umpires probably couldn’t hear anything.

Forty minutes before Tea the ground sheet wallahs appeared and took up their positions by the assorted rolls of tarpaulin. Nicholls was dropped by Dickwella when on 25 and de Silva replaced Dananjaya at the Pavilion End. Three overs later Nicholls offered another chance and this time he was caught by Kusal Mendis at slip for 26 ( 98 – 5 ). The game was very nicely poised and runs were at a premium. De Silva dropped short and Watling pulled the ball behind square to the boundary. Santner and Watling were content to score in singles and rotate the strike as the Sri Lankans set hopeless fields for bowlers who clearly didn’t have any cohesive plans of attack. Batting was allowed to be easier than it should have been and the New Zealand lead stretched to over 100. Then for the fourth time in 8 sessions of cricket a wicket fell in the over before an interval as Santner pulled a long hop from Embuldeniya straight into the hands of Lakmal at deep mid-wicket ( 124 – 6 )

The dark clouds passed over the ground during the interval and the staff in their bright yellow jackets returned to their seats. The bowlers swapped ends with the left arm orthodox Embuldeniya returning to the Fort End. A short delivery from Dananjaya was pulled to the square leg boundary by Southee. These were vital runs for New Zealand. Southee was dropped by Mendis fielding on his knees very close to the bat at gully. The singles were still coming far too easily for the Kiwis and Lakmal was brought back from the Fort End. The Sri Lankans wasted a review trying to get Watling lbw but the TV replay confirmed a thick inside edge. It was noticeably dark by 4 pm and I expected the umpires to be considering the light at any moment with no floodlights available to come to the rescue. The ground staff returned to their positions by the boundary rope and play continued in the gloom. The partnership between Watling and Southee had already added 35 runs from 81 balls with only one boundary.

Watling deliberately edged Lakmal wide of the slips with soft hands for a welcome boundary. The Wild Flowers returned to the stage to the excruciating sound of audio feedback and I looked longingly at the clouds to hopefully rescue the situation. The drinks interval arrived and I was bemoaning what a pointless selection Kumara was turning out to be for him to be immediately introduced from the Fort End after Lakmal had conceded 16 runs from his three overs. The New Zealand lead had climbed to 150 at this stage and they still had 4 wickets in hand. Embuldeniya was given another go from the Pavilion End and Southee was dropped by Thirimanne at short leg, a difficult chance when the batsman was on 20. An excellent 50 partnership was completed from 110 balls and BJ Watling followed up with his individual half century from 120 balls. Southee was dropped again this time by Dickwella diving full length to his right off Kumara. Southee’s luck finally ran out when he charged down the wicket to Embuldeniya and was stumped miles out of his crease after missing the ball ( 178 – 7 ).

Watling continued to play beautifully and a straight drive to the boundary all along the ground off Kumara was perhaps the shot of the day. The next ball was nonchalantly flicked over the slips for another boundary. The rain was staying away but the light was getting worse by the minute. When the umpires asked Karunaratne to consider not using his pace bowlers the Sri Lankans deliberately declined and play ended at 5 pm with 6 overs remaining in the day. New Zealand had reached 195 – 7 from 76 overs with an overall lead of 177.

*** ***

PS: Early Travails ……

Nanda the Hotel Manager called me from the Restaurant yesterday evening to point out a huge Rat Snake ( Ptyas mucosus maximus ) as it slithered away into the undergrowth behind the swimming pool. He then informed me that Brown Headed Barbets and Green Imperial Pigeons can be seen from the fourth floor balcony feeding on the yellow berries of a particular tree early in the morning. He described where the tree was located and I duly climbed the 134 steps to the highest point of the Hotel complex at 6 am this morning. After recovering from the climb I searched in vain for the barbets for half an hour before eventually giving up. What Nanda had neglected to tell me was that the berries only appear between November and February.

 

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Filed under memorable moments, New Zealand cricket, performance

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