More Accounts from Dannie Byrne at the Oval

DAY 3: Latham century gives hope to the visitors with two days still remaining in the Test match; Day three in Colombo.

The tuk tuk driver clocked up 246 Rupees on the meter this morning despite knowing the way to the ground. It was interesting trying to work out how the numbers changed and for what reason. There is an initial charge of 50 or 60 Rupees that covers you for the first Kilometre or so and then the price increases by 4 Rupees for every 100 metres travelled. There is also a bonus for the driver of an additional 6 Rupees for every minute that the tuk tuk is stationary. Fortunately most of the drivers haven’t worked out that they would be better off heading straight into the longest traffic jam they can find and to remain static rather than being obsessed with overtaking all the other stationary vehicles by weaving and bobbing, sneaking up the inside lane adjacent to the storm drain and generally being a nuisance by whatever means necessary.

Play began at 9.45 am with Nick and I looking on gleefully from the Press Box End in our New Media Complex Level One Box 3 air conditioned sanctuary. We had a wonderful view of Trent Boult running in and we could even make an educated guess as to what he was trying to do with the ball by studying the field positions and how Williamson tinkered with them. It was such a relief after looking at the knees of most of the players during the brief time it wasn’t raining during the previous two days. As the game progressed de Silva played a controlled late cut to the third man fence from Ajaz to bring up the Sri Lanka 150 and then repeated the shot a little less late with the same outcome. He pushed a single wide of mid-off to complete his half century from 85 balls having been on 9 when Boult dropped the simplest of chances the previous morning.

Southee replaced Boult after three overs and the 41 run 7th wicket partnership came to an end when Dilruwan was lbw to a delivery from Ajaz that appeared to stay low with the batsman playing too late ( 171 – 7 ). The Sri Lankans wasted a review before Lakmal walked to the wicket and slashed his first delivery wide of Southee at second slip to the boundary. Lakmal made a mess of an attempted pull off Southee and was fortunate when the ball landed safety at square leg with at least four fielders trying to make enough ground to pull off an unlikely catch. The new ball was taken as soon as it was available with the score 196 – 7. Boult tried to intimidate de Silva with a bouncer and the ball sailed over deep backward square leg for a six. Southee was also sending down a lot of short pitched stuff and the physio was keeping fit by running on and off the field treating Lakmal’s shoulder and then one of his fingers. Southee eventually got his reward when another short delivery was fended off by Lakmal from in front of his nose with the ball ending up in Watling’s mitts having deflected off the batsman’s glove. The 8th wicket had added a valuable 43 runs for the home side ( 214 – 8 ) and the visiting wicket-keeper had picked up five catches in the innings.

De Silva top edged a six attempting a hook shot to Boult to take his score to 90. The next ball was edged wide of Southee at second slip for four more runs. Boult is a cheerful character who often manages a smile even in times of adversity. He was spitting nails on this occasion though as he rapidly stormed back to his mark. Southee dismissed Embuldeniya lbw in the next over ( 224 – 9 ) and de Silva was in danger of being stranded on 94 as one of Chris Martin’s star pupils walked to the crease with five balls remaining in the over. Kumara somehow survived as two Spot-billed Pelicans even did a circuit of the ground to check out what all the fuss was about. De Silva smashed a straight four off Boult and managed to pinch a cheeky single off the last ball of the over to take his score to 99. He patiently allowed Southee not to tempt him with the first three deliveries and when the fourth offered a little extra width he smashed it over gully to complete his fifth Test century from 138 balls having only gone beyond 50 on ten occasions.

Dark clouds were moving towards the ground and for the first time in the matchI was in the perfect position to watch them arrive. Kumara managed to hit the ball over mid-off but it didn’t appear to know its way to the boundary stopping several metres short. A wild swipe from the tail-ender had the slips giggling as he missed the ball completely reminding me of Andrew Flintoff’s famous comment to Tino Best about minding the windows. An attempted drive to extra cover brought two more runs to Kumara and I was looking up the record books. His previous highest score was 10 and he had never faced more than 19 deliveries in an innings in 17 Test matches. He was currently looking good on 5 from 11 balls. If only he could find someone to stay with him at the crease.Unfortunately Dhananjaya de Silva had other ideas and was bowled in the next over for 109 and the Sri Lankans were all out for 244 from 90.2 overs. They had added exactly 100 runs in the morning session from 24.2 overs for the loss of the final four wickets.

I had a brief chat with Kyle Mills during the interval when he came into our box to make a few phone calls and briefly escape from the rest of the commentary team. We agreed that the New Zealand strategy had to be to try to bat for at least four sessions and to build a lead such that they might only need to bat once in the match. Plans are of course fine to discuss in advance but the problems often arise when the batsmen attempt to execute them. The Kiwi opening batsmen had to survive 5 minutes before lunch and that was turned into two overs of spin from Dilruwan and De Silva. Lakmal was given the ball after the interval and Dilruwan switched to the Air Force Flats End. The off spinner immediately removed Jeet Raval caught at slip by de Silva while pushing forward tentatively ( 1 – 1 ).

I noticed a little pocket of blue sky for the first time since Galle just as Kumara replaced Lakmal after a four over spell. Williamson was looking good until he appeared to guide a delivery from Kumara straight into the hands of Mendis at second slip ( 34 – 2 ) having made 20 from 28 balls. Shortly after this Nick noticed that Chandimal was keeping wicket rather than Dickwella. The latter had injured his hand attempting to catch one of Kumara’s deliveries and the Sri Lankans were subsequently allowed to use a substitute as a specialist fielder in line with the new regulations. Taylor was using his feet well to counter the spin of Embuldeniya and a glorious straight drive all along the ground to the boundary was probably the shot of the match so far. De Silva replaced Dilruwan after an 11 over spell and the 50 partnership was completed from 77 balls. The New Zealand batsmen were scoring at almost twice the rate of the Sri Lankans during the previous two days as they knew they needed to take the game forward quickly if they were to have any chance of leveling the series.

The spinners were getting the ball to turn and bounce and Taylor was undone when failing to get close enough to a delivery he was attempting to drive resulting in another catch for de Silva at slip ( 84 – 3 ). Latham was unruffled by all the wickets falling around him and went on to complete his half century from 95 balls. Tea was taken with the New Zealand score 103 -3 from 33 overs. Kumara returned from the Press Box End after the interval and managed to get the ball changed after 35.2 overs. The ground sheet wallahs started to move into their positions but were not fully prepared when the rain suddenly started falling in torrents at 3.51 pm. The shower lasted barely 10 minutes and the hard work of the staff ensured that only 28 minutes of play were lost on this occasion.

Once play had resumed Dilruwan managed to get Nicholls to push at an off break leading to de Silva grabbing his third catch of the innings at first slip ( 126 – 4 ). An enormous plume of smoke was suddenly seen rising from behind the Pavilion and I had no idea if it was the announcement of a new Pope or a toaster catching fire. Meanwhile Watling took an easy boundary guiding the ball to the vacant third man area off Kumara. Another easy single to Watling reduced the deficit to less than 100. Dilruwan dropped short and Latham pulled the ball to the mid-wicket boundary to take his score to 79. The next delivery brought a huge lbw appeal from the Sri Lankans. Umpire Oxenford ruled not out and the DRS was invoked with Latham escaping due to the faintest of edges off his glove before the ball crashed into his pads. Two balls later Oxenford raised the finger to Watling for a caught behind decision and when the batsman appealed the replays showed no contact with the bat. The batsmen were living dangerously but at least they were surviving.

Watling and Latham were able to score comfortably at over 3 an over for the rest of the day and the 50 partnership came up from 84 balls. Latham stood firm to all the bowlers, riding his luck a little when a few deliveries from Dilruwan appeared to spit and bounce at him and he eventually completed his tenth Test century from 169 deliveries when Dilruwan dropped short and was pulled to the deep mid-wicket boundary. It was Latham’s fourth Test century against Sri Lanka but his first in Asia. Play ended for the day shortly afterwardswith New Zealand on 196 – 4 from 63 overs only 48 behind the Sri Lanka first innings total. In the end 90 overs were bowled in the day and if a similar return becomes possible in each of the next two days then there may yet be a clear winner in this Test match.

   **** *****

DAY 4: The Kiwis add a further 186 runs from 48 overs in another rain interrupted day to keep alive their outside chance of forcing a victory tomorrow; Day four in Colombo.

The tuk tuk driver set a new record this morning when clocking up only 206 Rupees on the meter but he did have some playing conditions in his favour with very little traffic on the road on a Sunday. Nick and I arrived at the ground at 9 am and the covers were in the process of being removed. Unfortunately it started raining ten minutes later and they were dragged back out again. The shower lasted less than 15 minutes before “les gilets jaunes” returned and started dragging the sheets of tarpaulin off once more. By 10.25 it had started raining again. At 11 am the rain had relented and the covers started to be removed. The rain returned at 11.30 am.

The rain finally stopped falling at 12 pm but the grounds staff had completely disappeared. They had clearly had enough of this stupid game and were not going to be disturbed during their lunch break. The sky was quite bright at this stage with good weather coming up in the distance. Nevertheless the covers remained on the outfield. The yellow vests gradually started to re-appear after 12.30 and the covers were all removed within 20 minutes. The boundary rope had to be re-positioned and the players had to have their customary game of football before play finally got underway at 1.40 pm with Kumara bowling from the Pavilion End. A short delivery was helped to the fine leg boundary by Latham and an edge over the covers appeared to go right through Mathewshands as he jumped up at first slip. The 100 partnership was completed from 164 balls with Watling contributing only 37.

Embuldeniya replaced Kumara after a 4 over spell and the first 10 overs of the day produces 37 runs without the loss of any wickets. De Silva took over from Dilruwan and when Latham turned the ball to leg for a quick single the scores were level. Lakmal took the new ball as soon as it was available with the score 245 – 4. Dhananjaya de Silva’s bowling average at this stage was 47.72 exactly identical to Geoffrey Boycott’s batting average. Don’t ask me how I remembered that though it could have something to do with the number of times he informs everybody each year on Test Match Special. Embuldeniya switched to the Press Box End and a patient and extremely valuable half century was completed by Watling from 132 balls. Latham completed his 150 from 244 deliveries in the same over to generous applause from the home supporters.

Dilruwan replaced de Silva and his first ball was a horrible long hop which Watling thrashed through the covers. Latham was finally lbw for 154 playing back to a ball from Dilruwan and the partnership had added 143 runs ( 269 – 5 ). Embuldeniya was thrown the ball in place of Lakmal with Mathews and Chandimal setting the fields and making the decisions with both Karunaratne and Dickwella off the field injured. De Grandhomme hit the left arm spinner for a six over long-off and then smashed the off spinner Dilruwan high over the Media Stand where I was sitting in the over before Tea. Umpire Gould made a strange signal which may have been requesting for a tuk tuk to be sent off in search of the ball. The players walked off the field with the score 295 – 5 from 92 overs with the New Zealand lead 51. Nick and I had enjoyed the company of some young Sri Lankan lads throughout the last two days and it was a shame when the Stewards came around to check the tickets and subsequently obliged them to move to their correctly allocated seats.

The final session was always going to be exciting with the New Zealand batsmen looking to score quickly to possibly set up the chance of a victory tomorrow if the rain stays away. De Grandhomme completed an extraordinary half century from only 45 deliveries with a sequence of shots off Embuldeniya that were recorded as 4,6,6 on my scorecard. Just the 19 came off the over. Kumara was bowling bouncers from the Press Box End to prevent de Grandhomme being able to reach the ball. Umpire Gough called him for three wides with the second one so high the batsman wouldn’t have reached it by standing on top of a step ladder. Lakmal returned to the attack and the New Zealand lead was quickly stretched to over 100. The grounds staff moved towards the covers again and umpire Oxenford waved them on as a very dark cloud threatened to have Noah checking in the animals again.

Play was delayed by 15 minutes until the danger of serious rain had passed. The fast bowlers were deployed by Sri Lanka to use up time and prevent thebatsmen scoring too quickly. De Grandhomme smashed an incredible flat six off Kumara over mid-wicket to bring up the 100 partnership from 123 balls. The all-rounder had scored no fewer than 79 of the runs himself. Embuldeniya came on for Lakmal but at this stage the New Zealand batsmen were content to score in singles knowing that bad light would stop play very soon. The players walked off at 5.45 pm for this very reason with the score 382 – 5 from 110 overs with Watling on 81 and de Grandhomme on 83 and the overall lead 138. With the amount of rain that falls in Sri Lanka all the year round it’s incredible to think that the most recent 25 Tests played here have ended with one side winning. If the rain stays away tomorrow there may be a chance of this sequence continuing.

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