Akila Dananjaya took five for 57 to leave the Kiwis at 203 for five, at stumps on Day 1. Ross Taylor, played a sublime innings of 86*(131) to avoid a collapse for the visitors. Dananjaya bowled 22 overs spread across two spells. All his wickets came during the final 15-minutes of the first two sessions. Only 68 overs were bowled on the day that saw much of the third session being washed out due to rain.
To begin the day, New Zealand openers got off to a solid start as they added 64 runs in the first 24 overs. During that period, both Jeet Raval and Tom Latham looked in complete control to weave together a chanceless stand. The openers, who on an average leave 34% of the balls they face in the first 10-overs, did the same this time around as well. The scoring rate improved as the innings progressed. Raval was particularly severe on Dhananjaya de Silva whom he hit for two boundaries in one over, forcing him out of the attack. During the last few minutes of the first session, the scenario changed for the visitors in the space of four overs.
Dananjaya, brought in as the first change in the eighth over, took three wickets in the last 12 balls he bowled before lunch. After taking a few overs to find the right pace on the track, he settled into a rhythm to create chances for Sri Lanka. He had Latham caught behind after the opener indecisively hung his bat outside off to a shortish delivery only to find a faint nick. Sri Lankans were back in the game when Kane Williamson chipped one straight to short mid-wicket three balls later in the same over.
Taylor joined Raval minutes before lunch. While the duo tried to stall the bowlers to ensure a careful passage until lunch, Dananjaya produced another bit of magic as his googly, misread by Raval had him caught at first slip right at the stroke of the break.
The second session saw Sri Lanka handing over the initiative back to the Kiwis through some average bowling and defensive captaincy. Taylor and Henry Nicholls were allowed easy singles to ensure a swift progress. To make matters worse for Sri Lanka, left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya failed to provide the desired control and drifted towards leg stump often. Taylor brought his 31st half century (8th in the subcontinent) with a tuck down to fine leg. The duo scored briskly to bring up a 100-run stand.
Dananjaya, the destroyer-in-chief, bowled just six overs at the start of the second session. Sri Lanka went wicketless until Dananjaya was brought back towards the end. He picked up two wickets in eight balls to end the second session on the same note as the first. Dananjaya had Nicholls miss a sweep to dismiss him LBW for 42. In the second ball of his next over, Dananjaya completed his five-for by dismissing wicket-keeper batsman BJ Watling, who missed a pull and like Nicholls was dismissed LBW for a solitary run.
Until Nicholls’s dismissal, the fourth wicket partnership between Taylor and him was chanceless as the duo used the sweep shot to good effect against the spinners. Taylor in particular was swift to come down the track on occasions to disturb the length. While they were going good, the only opportunity for the hosts came in the 47th over when Nicholls dabbed a ball in the cover region and sprinted for a quick single. Taylor would have found himself struggling to reach the striker’s end if Dimuth Karunaratne was able to provide a better throw.
Rain halted the start of play in the third session. When play begun, only 7.4 overs were possible until covers were back on amid the dark skies. Heavy rain then followed and ended the day prematurely. Mitchell Santner is at the crease, 8* off 21 balls, with Taylor. The start of Day 2 will be interesting, as the last recognised pair for New Zealand will look to see off Dananjaya and milk the others. Taylor meanwhile will have an eye on his 22nd century.