Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Day 5, Basin Reserve

It is a measure of how much the New Zealand team has come on that day five, though certainly exciting, was never tense. Whenever the seed of the thought that it was time for another wicket showed the least sign of germinating, a wicket would duly be taken. The only time nervousness took its seat in the RA Vance Stand was when some dark clouds appeared to the south with eight down and tea looming.

The day showed how New Zealand has grown stronger as a team. No longer do one or two individuals bear the responsibility for bringing about a win on the fifth day.

The close catching was wonderful, starting with Neesham’s fingertip grasp to get rid of Prasad early in the day. Best of all was Williamson’s catch to dismiss Mathews. Fielders often have a second, or third, grasp at a parried catch, usually desperately and unsuccessfully. Few have looked as calm or deliberate as Williamson did as he kept his eye fixed on the ball to take the catch, as if that had been the plan all along. There was a superfluous amount of national pride taken in the catch’s selection as ESPN’s play of the day.

A year ago most of us had not heard of Mark Craig. He went to the West Indies as a replacement for Jeetan Patel, who turned the trip down in favour of continuing his successful relationship with Warwickshire in county cricket. Craig claimed four wickets in each innings on debut at Sabina Park, didn’t do much for his next four tests, then took ten in the series-levelling victory against Pakistan in Sharjah, thus establishing himself over Ish Sodhi as leading spinner.

Craig did not have the metronomic accuracy or variations of flight that Daniel Vettori brought to the side, but he takes more wickets in the fourth innings than Vettori did in the final three or four years of his test career. Craig bowls more loose stuff than Vettori, but mixes them with wicket-takers.

Craig has better support than Vettori. During the morning he bowled in partnership with Trent Boult, who bowled five overs for nine runs, building the pressure that led to Craig getting two wickets in two balls at the other end.

The day’s only sour note was the dismissal of Kumar Sangakkara. BJ Watling did not even appeal for his take from an attempted cut to count as a catch. Bowler Trent Boult’s enthusiasm persuaded McCullum to make a somewhat diffident request for a review, something I am certain he would not have done for any other batsman. On the basis of a ripple on the snickometer and a faint patch on hotspot, neither of which was conclusive proof of contact, Sangakkara was given out.

This should not have been enough to overturn the umpire’s not-out decision. For that to occur, the first viewing of replays, hotspot etc should be enough to refute the original decision.

New Zealand are now fifth in the world rankings. A win in the short series in England—a realistic aspiration—would probably move them up to third. There is a resilience about the team that is new. Players who have performed adequately, such as Wagner, find that this is not enough to hold their place. Almost the whole team is young and will likely improve.

This was one of the finest test matches at which I have been present for all or most of. There has not been another at which probable victory for one team has metamorphosed into a win for the other. Perhaps the closest in this respect was the first test at Hamilton in December 1999, when the West Indies contrived to turn a first-innings opening stand of 276 (Sherwin and Campbell were the batsmen) into an eight-wicket defeat.

There was individual brilliance from a great player and a great player to-be. The southerly showed mercy on us for three of the five days, and my yellow-spined family has two new members (1943 and 1953). A perfect start to 2015.

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