An uncharacteristic Galle pitch barely turned enough as New Zealand edged ahead in the first Test.
A fresh hero has emerged on every day of the Test and it was BJ Watling that took centre-stage on Friday with an unbeaten 63 off 138 balls, which handed New Zealand a lead of 177.
On Thursday, Niroshan Dickwella and Suranga Lakmal played gritty knocks to leave the hosts just 22 runs shy of New Zealand’s 249. The pair continued in the same vein taking Sri Lanka to 242 before Lakmal attempted a big heave to mid-wicket off Trent Boult, only to see his furniture disturbed.
An unperturbed Dickwella continued to knock off the runs in the company of Lasith Embuldeniya, handing Lanka the lead and bringing up his half century in the subsequent over.
By the time the innings ended, Sri Lanka were ahead by 18 runs – the last three wickets contributing a vital 106 runs.
New Zealand would have still felt they were in the driving seat considering the highest successful run chase at Galle has been 99 for three in 2014 when Sri Lanka put one past Pakistan.
The strip wasn’t really behaving like the spinner’s haven that it is known to be, but the Kiwi batsmen just seemed overawed by its reputation. Jeet Raval, Kane Williamson, and Ross Taylor found themselves back in the hut after falling victim to ordinary strokes.
Tom Latham look solid as ever holding fort at one end with some sensible batting. From 25 for three, Latham and Henry Nicholls forged a crucial partnership as they stabilised the Kiwi ship.
Latham then fell to a beauty from Akila Dananjaya with Nicholls following suit shortly after. When New Zealand lost their sixth wicket – Mitchell Santner playing a horrific shot to hole out at deep midwicket – they had a lead of 106 with only the tail to come.
Similar to the way Taylor took charge in the first innings, it was BJ Watling that held Sri Lanka at bay in the second innings. Watling and Southee frustrated the Lankan bowlers with technically sound defensive strokes and getting the odd boundary. All of Southee’s hard work was undone when he trotted down the track and was stumped after Embuldeniya deceived him with a well-flighted delivery.
Watling continued to battle on and when bad light stopped play, New Zealand were in a comfortable position. With two days still remaining, there is little or no doubt that the match will yield a result. It will all come down to which side can hold their nerves better and eke out a win.