Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, 2nd day, Basin Reserve

Let me take you back, my friends, to the December of 1946. At the Sydney Cricket Ground on the 13th of that month, Don Bradman made 234 against England. It was his eleventh test double century. The next time a batsman scored his eleventh double century was today at the Basin Reserve, and I was there.

Once in a while you wish for something very, very hard and it comes true. I wished for a Kumar Sangakkara century and got a double.

The match situation—five down and 143 behind at the start of the day—constrained Sangakkara from deploying the full range of his talent. He was a great actor performing at a matinee, holding something back for the second house. But a bad first session would have lost Sri Lanka the match, and the series. Now, even if New Zealand bat all day tomorrow, getting back on level terms is the best they can hope for as a reward, all thanks to one great innings.

Through the morning Sangakkara’s focus was on accumulation, featuring some astute running between the wickets with Chandimal. He rarely played a false shot and—the hallmark of a great batsman—always had time to spare. In the afternoon we saw more chocolate-smooth cover drives, back knee almost on the ground, bat over the shoulder in the follow through. There is no sight more pleasing in cricket than a left-hander’s cover drive.

He became a little ragged in the final session as tiredness combined with milking what he could from the tail, to the extent of 148 combined for the seventh, eighth and ninth wicket partnerships. Only then did he offer several chances at the difficult-to-impossible end of the continuum.

One of Trent Boult’s trademark Basin miracle catches—this one half dolphin, half weightless astronaut—was needed to end Sangakkara’s innings, for 203. Every one of the New Zealand team shook his hand before he departed. We should run a cricketing etiquette class; reduced rates for needy Australians.

That Sangakkara is a great batsman is beyond question, but where does he stand among the batting aristocracy? As the best left-hander since Graeme Pollock, I would suggest. Some will favour Brian Lara, and if we are thinking of attack only, I might agree. But Sangakkara combines the fluency of Gower with the obduracy of Lawry and adds something of his own to the compound.

He was well-supported. Chandimal shared a sixth-wicket partnership of 130 without ever quite having his timing, but this did not worry him, suggesting that he has a test-match temperament.

Rangana Herath appears to be the first batsman in test history to choose the airspace over the slips as his preferred scoring area. He got the rough end of the DRS, being given out after more repeat showings than The Sound of Music. Unless it is immediately obvious that the original decision was wrong, it should not be overturned.

The New Zealand openers began the second innings with a 135 deficit and 11 overs to face, something they achieved, though not before some in the RA Vance Stand had begun to applaud Rutherford whenever he left the ball outside off stump, to reinforce and reward positive behaviour. There is a growing feeling that there is a repeating computer glitch that includes him in the test team when he should be in the ODIs.

New Zealand will not be able to put themselves in a winning position on the third day, but could go most of the way to losing the match and drawing the series.

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