Monday, January 5, 2015

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Day 3, Basin Reserve



Good test cricket is all about change, which takes many forms. Yesterday’s play was the French Revolution up to the Reign Of Terror. It began with a wave of optimism and the expectation of quick victory; it ended in confusion and recrimination (though any resemblance between Kumar Sangakkara and Robespierre is not intentional).

Day three was the Industrial Revolution. Progress was extremely slow and for long periods it appeared that nothing was happening. Yet underneath, thanks to the hard work of a few individuals, profound transformation was taking place.

For the first hour, Latham and Rutherford were relatively untroubled, helped by some loose bowling from Sri Lanka. With four right-arm seamers of similar pace, none swingers of the ball, it seemed that Trevor Bailey’s dictum that the captain could change the bowler but not the bowling seemed to apply to Sri Lanka.

But Rutherford fell for a Mathews ruse (one of many—see below). Second slip was sent to third man to whence Rutherford steered a catch just a few balls later. He left the field knowing that he has not done enough to make certain of enjoying business class service on the way to England in May.

In Pradeep’s next over, Latham followed one to give the bowler his second wicket of the morning. Pradeep and his colleagues bowled less generously as the morning went on.

Now Herath was bowling his left-arm spin from the Government House end. He is the third-ranked bowler in the world at the moment, which is good for a rather chubby fellow who clearly dislikes fielding. Long may he prosper. He bowled tidily all day, but saved his best delivery for the scoreless Ross Taylor, who played slightly across one that spun enough to clip off stump.

McCullum began cautiously, unlike the first innings but in the same way as he did last year to cast off his triple hundred. No repeat today. He added to a somewhat unfortunate match (lost toss, golden duck, dropped catch) by wildly optimistic use of the DRS for an lbw decision against him that it took only a fleeting glance to see was cleaning out middle stump.

For taking quick, stylish runs from a tired attack, Jimmy Neesham is your man. But he does not yet do attrition very well. He was out as the result of effective use of the DRS by Sri Lanka. It showed that he had been hit in front of the stumps, not outside the line as it appeared at the time.

Angelo Mathews is the sort of captain who is so full of bright ideas that he could illuminate a day/night match from the lightbulbs popping on above his head. Now, a slip and two gullies. Now, three slips, but spread out with gaps between them. Now, give the new ball to the spinner. In the over before lunch, faced exclusively by McCullum, there were three complete changes of field.

As we have seen, one of these bright ideas accounted for Rutherford, but I have a feeling that Mathews might be a touch exasperating for those he leads.

In mid-afternoon BJ Watling joined Kane Williamson, who had been there since first down. They worked together, perfecting the steam engine for New Zealand, for the rest of the day. Williamson has become New Zealand’s best batsman, with the shots for most situations and the judgement to use them wisely.

Watling—McCullum’s partner in the record-breaking 352-run partnership here last year—is almost as reliable, if a trifle over-dependent on the third man region as a source of runs.

How different it would have been had either of the chances that Williamson offered been accepted. Perhaps the game would already be over. On 30, he hit the ball hard back to the bowler Herath, who could not hold on. On 60 he hooked Prasad straight to Pradeep at fine leg. It looked terrible, but I suspect that the pohutukawas did for him. They bloom regally at this time of year, but in the shade of a cricket ball, and it was against this background that Pradeep was trying to pick out the orb as it neared.

At the close, New Zealand are 118 ahead with five wickets left. The pitch has plenty of runs left in it, but is not a road. Another hundred might be enough to give the attack space to bowl Sri Lanka out, 150 makes New Zealand favourites. Will day four be the Velvet Revolution or the Prague Spring?

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