Danny Byrne: “Karunaratne and Thirimanne share a magnificent partnership to leave Sri Lanka close to victory”
I arrived at the ground a little later than on previous mornings after doing some preparatory shopping for a bird-watching visit to a rain forest after the conclusion of the Test match. I found a pair of plastic sandals in a sale for 600 Rupees and a bag of table salt in Food City set me back a further 125. When I climbed up to the first floor of the Galle CC Stand at 9.30 am the outfield was completely covered in tarpaulins. In less than 15 minutes they had all been removed by six teams of lads in bright yellow shirts with twenty individuals in each team. The umpire’s inspected the wicket and the outfield with the clouds distinctly darker than on the previous three mornings and play finally got under way at 10.35 am.
Prior to the start of the Test a tower was erected from scaffold poles with a camera platform approximately 8 metres above the ground directly in front of the middle of the Galle CC Stand. It could easily have been situated 25 metres to the left or the right as it wasn’t in line with any of the batting creases and served very little purpose. Clearly the members of Galle CC had upset someone with influence and power and this was their way of exacting some form of childish retribution. It didn’t really matter on the first three days when there were only a few dozen people in the Stand who were easily able to sit either side of the obstruction. Today being a Saturday was a different matter and lots of people were going to have to put up with a severely restricted view.
Dananjaya and Embuldeniya opened the bowling but Lakmal was recalled after only a couple of overs just before the new ball became available. A sweep to the fine leg boundary from Watling off Embuldeniya brought the New Zealand score up to 200. Somerville and Watling continued to score in singles and if anyone in the ground could actually see the scoreboard they might have noticed it slowly ticking over. Watling was fortunate to be given not out to an enthusiastic lbw appeal that turned out to be “umpire’s call” on review. He calmly steered the next ball through a gap on the leg side to take the lead beyond 200. Kumara replaced Lakmal while the new ball was still hard and shiny and Watling was caught behind to his third delivery ( 224 – 8 ).
Boult took a boundary off Dananjaya and continued to play attacking shots when Embuldeniya was reintroduced into the attack. He hit Dananjaya for a six over cow corner and managed to add 26 priceless runs before being caught on the boundary at a sort of fly slip position off Kumara ( 260 – 9 ). The Wild Flowers started playing again and the members Stand was pretty close to being full. Kumara was rested after a five over spell that produced figures of 2 – 12. A tern flew over the ground that I was unable to identify and a sweep from Ajaz took the New Zealand lead to over 250. De Silva replaced Dananjaya and Sri Lanka used up their final review trying to get Ajaz given out lbw. Lakmal returned from the Fort End 12 minutes before lunch. Ajaz smashed de Silva for 4 to deep mid-wicket and Karunaratne had five fielders on the boundary with two non-batsmen at the crease. Ajaz was finally out lbw to a delivery from de Silva that must have been millimetres away from being called a no-ball and New Zealand were all out for 285 from 106 overs setting the Sri Lankans a target of 268 to win. Embuldeniya finished with figures of 4 – 99 and de Silva 3 – 25.
Lunch was taken between innings and I managed to get on to the grass bank to say hello to Sonny Shaw who was looking more like a lobster than a Kiwi. The Sri Lankan batsmen made a good start to their second innings by seeing off the new ball without taking any unnecessary risks. There was spin at both ends after 10 overs and with the TV images having crashed again everyone was asking me the score at the end of every other over. Sonny informed me during the interval that he only found out the score each day when he made it back to his Guest House. Someone asked me why they don’t invest in flood lights at Galle, but if they can’t afford a scoreboard then you might as well hold cigarette lighters up in the stands if you want any extra light.
After 15 overs the score was 29 – 0. Frank was fortunate when a leading edge that he didn’t know much about fell just wide of Williamson at short mid-wicket. Frank hit the first boundary of the innings in the 22nd over when Somerville dropped short and was cut mercilessly behind square. The Ground Sheet Wallahs appeared at 3 pm but fortunately for the cheering spectators the rain stayed away. There were several hundred additional supporters watching from various vantage points on the Fort and the temporary Stand opposite me also appeared to be pretty full. Frank used his feet nicely to Somerville to drive him over mid-off to take his score to 49. A bottom edge brought up his half century and the crowd eventually gave him a standing ovation once the replay screen had displayed a huge “50”. Tea was taken with the score 76 – 0 from 32 overs and Sri Lanka only required a further 188 to pull off an unlikely victory.
Ajaz replaced Santner after Tea and Southee was given a bowl from the Pavilion End. The 100 partnership was completed from 230 balls and the crowd applauded 5 minutes later when the information appeared on the large screen on the coastal side of the ground normally reserved for TV replays and advertisements. Lahiru Thirimanne completed his half century from 123 balls and Boult returned from the Fort End with the score 122 – 0 from 46 overs. The light meter was brought out just before 5 pm and by 5.10 pm the players were walking back towards the Pavilion. The score at the close of play was 133 – 0 from 50 overs leaving the home side a further 135 to score on the final morning for Sri Lanka to win. The Black Caps are not out of the game as a few early wickets could potentially change everything. It promises to be another tense and exciting day of Test cricket.