New Zealand’s All-Round Brilliance secures Decisive Victory

Dannie Byrne:“Fantastic all round performance by the New Zealand team ensures the Series is drawn; Day Five in Colombo”

The overnight rain was probably the heaviest I have experienced since arriving in Sri Lanka 12 days ago. The puddles outside the P Sara Oval stretched right across the road as the tuk tuk driver splashed his way towards Gate 1 while clocking up 246 Rupees on the meter. Remarkably most of the covers were already off the field by 9 am but the TV commentators I managed to speak with mentioned a few very wet areas on the outfield that the umpires had some concerns over. Several sheets of a sponge like material were being used to soak up the additional water in an extremely efficient manner and when umpire Oxenford came across to have a look at 9.40 am he immediately gave the thumbs up signal to the grumpy official who refused to speak with me on the second day. The Kiwis had already played their customary game of football and all that remained was for the boundary rope to be put back in place before play was able to begin at 10.15 am which was only half an hour after the scheduled starting time.

Prior to that the fourth umpire had to get rid of the guys painting the advertising logos on the outfield to enable the last sheet of tarpaulin to be removed and several bags of sawdust had to be raked over the particularly wet areas in front of both sides of the Media Centre very close to the boundary. I had wondered why a tree had to be removed and chopped up with a chain saw the previous morning behind the main stand and now I had a likely explanation. The two clay tennis courts adjacent to the car parking area were completely under water for the first time in this Test match bearing testimony to the volume of rain that had fallen the previous night and the magnificent effort by all the grounds staff to get the game started today in the first place.

Embuldeniya opened the bowling from the Pavilion End and de Grandhomme was caught at deep mid-wicket by Kumara off the second ball of the day ( 382 – 6 ). Watling helped himself to three quick boundaries to take his score to 96. He brought up his seventh Test century in the next over from 222 balls including 8 fours with half of them coming from the most recent 13 deliveries. Southee edged Kumara for a couple of boundaries over the empty slip area and when he hit successive sixes off Embuldeniya’s next over his captain appeared on the balcony to signal the declaration with the score 431–6 from 113.4 overs. Southee had scored 24 from only 9 balls and Watling also remained not out on 105. New Zealand had a healthy lead of 187 after the first innings.

The clouds were moving across the ground at a far slower pace to the previous days and the weather appeared to be far more settled. It didn’t do Thirimanne much good though as he was run out to the fifth ball of the Sri Lankan second innings following a brilliant piece of fielding from Ajaz at mid-wicket (0 –1 ). Southee bowled the second over and a leg stump half volley was dispatched to the mid-wicket fence by Mendis. Kusal Perera had opened the batting instead of the injured Karunaratne and when he followed a wide ball from Boult’s second over he was easily caught behind (4–2 ). Mathews hit a lovely straight drive off Southee and after 10 overs Ajaz and de Grandhomme replaced the fast bowlers. Mathews tried to hit de Grandhomme’s second ball through the covers and was comfortably caught by Taylor at slip ( 11 – 3 ). De Silva was the next to go nicely caught by Southee at second slip after attempting to hit Ajaz to the leg side against the spin (22 –4 ). Somerville bowled Mendis with a superb delivery that spun viciously to find the gap between bat and pad (32–5 ).

The Sri Lankan captain was allowed to come in at No. 7 and lunch followed shortly after with the score 33–5 from 23 overs. Karunaratne was dropped by Watling after the interval and was erroneously given out caught at slip. The Sri Lankans used the DRS and the replay screen confirmed the ball to have hit the pad only and Karunaratne was given another life. Dickwella provided good company for his captain and for the next hour and a half it looked like the Sri Lankans might be able to save the match. Southee replaced Ajaz at the Pavilion End and Dickwella finally hit his first boundary having faced 65 balls. The partnership had lasted 22 overs when Karunaratne was lbw to Southee not offering a shot (73–6 ) – an excellent decision on this occasion by the umpire. It was Southee’s 250th Test wicket.

Dilruwan didn’t last long attempting a drive to Southee and offering a catch to Taylor at first slip (75–7). A few dark clouds had suddenly appeared and the New Zealand bowlers still required a further 3 wickets for victory. Ajaz replaced Boult and Somerville took over from Southee as Williamson tried to bowl as many deliveries as possible before Tea. Lakmal played and missed to a ball from Ajaz that appeared to turn square. The score was 88–7 from 55 overs when the interval arrived. Dickwella had offered excellent resistance from 111 balls for his 36 runs. A precautionary sheet was dragged on to the field during the interval but thankfully it was taken away again as soon as the umpires re-emerged from the Pavilion 20 minutes later.

Lakmal took the long handle to Somerville and the ball landed on the clay tennis courts behind the car park. Dickwella continued to frustrate the bowlers and Boult returned to replace Ajaz. Williamson persisted with Somerville and was eventually rewarded when Lakmal deflected a delivery off his glove to Latham at forward short leg (115 –8 ). Dickwella completed his half century from 151 balls and Ajaz replaced Somerville at the Press Box End. Dickwella finally played a false shot when he tried to play a lap-sweep and ended up spooning a simple catch to Latham as he ran around towards leg slip from short leg having anticipated what the batsman was attempting to do ( 118 – 9 ). Kumara kept out the remaining three deliveries in the over from Ajaz but in the next over Embuldeniya was caught off his glove deep at second slip by Williamson off a bouncer from Boult. The home side had been dismissed for 122 and the Black Caps had won by an innings and 65 runs. Once again I had witnessed a two match Test Series that had ended in a draw when there really should have been a deciding third Test. Tom Latham was named Player of the Match and BJ Watling Player of the Series. With all the T20 and ODI matches to fit in I can appreciate how difficult it can be to find time for longer Test Series. However if the current Ashes Series had been restricted to only two games then the world would have missed seeing one of the greatest innings ever played. I’m back to the UK for a month or so and I’m grateful to Ben Stokes and Jack Leach for making the Oval Test something to really look forward to.



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