- Publish Date
- Friday, 10 March 2023, 8:15AM
By Kris Shannon
Tim Southee moved into second on New Zealand’s test wicket-taking list but that was a rare highlight for his side at Hagley Oval today.
Sri Lanka seized initial control of the first test a boundary at a time, with only Southee and Matt Henry preventing too much damage on a “frustrating” opening day for the hosts.
Despite the ball moving and the bat regularly beaten on a green pitch offering plenty, the tourists ended a rain-interrupted opening day in Christchurch on 305-6.
They would have been particularly pleased by that result after being sent in and barely surviving a threatening new-ball period.
Southee and Henry were essential in reining in an opposition who, having shaken off their early struggles, began scoring at a rate that would have satisfied Brendon McCullum.
Neil Wagner reverted rapidly to recent type a week after bowling his side to a one-run victory over McCullum’s England, while Blair Tickner — recalled in place of batsman Will Young — was also expensive and wicketless.
But fortunately for the Black Caps, Southee had a habit of striking when Sri Lanka looked like assuming total command, further ascending the New Zealand record books.
His third wicket of the day was test scalp 362, moving past Daniel Vettori and within sight of Sir Richard Hadlee’s 431.
If he maintains his consistency while avoiding major injury, Southee will need another 18 tests — on current trends, about three years’ worth — to become No 1.
It’s not an impossible ask for the 34-year-old, especially in the form he displayed while collecting 3-44 today.
Southee and Henry offered multiple tests an over in the opening hour. Henry thought he had captain Dimuth Karunaratne trapped from his second delivery, but the bounce the bowler had desired was working against the hosts.
Several good lbw shouts were shown to be rising over the stumps, with New Zealand losing all three reviews inside 48 overs.
Having repeatedly beaten the bat, the first wicket fell from one of the worst balls of the morning, as Oshada Fernando was strangled down the legside by Southee — an appropriate dismissal given how the Black Caps’ win over England ended.
Sri Lanka were on 27-1 after 13 overs, with bounce and a review saving a streaky Kusal Mendis. But that’s when the No 3 took charge, blazing a rapid half-century and helping the tourists plunder 93 runs from the next 11 overs, reaching lunch on 120-1 to wrest away the early initiative.
“It’s always a frustrating day when you’re beating the bat like that,” Henry told Spark Sport at stumps. “We’ve just got to be a bit better for longer — there was a little period there that hurt us.”
The Black Caps bowlers were guilty of losing their length in that period — Tickner and Wagner were particularly wayward — but Sri Lanka’s acceleration owed equally to quality batting.
Mendis soon found the middle and scored with fluid ease, collecting steady runs behind square to negate any short-ball tactic and slashing 16 boundaries while sharing a stand of 137 with Karunaratne.
That partnership was broken when Southee and Henry reestablished some pressure following lunch, highlighting how poor the second hour had been.
Mendis had progressed to 87 off 83 when he offered no shot to a Southee delivery that nipped back in, before Henry induced an edge from Karunaratne the following over.
Scoring slowed with new batsmen at the crease, as the tourists advanced to 209-3 at tea. After a second rain delay, Southee’s consistent length encouraged Dinesh Chandimal to drive and nick to slip, before Henry found the edge of Angelo Mathews and Michael Bracewell trapped Niroshan Dickwella in his opening over.
That dismissal exposed a lengthy Sri Lankan tail but Dhananjaya de Silva and Kasun Rajitha survived to stumps, leaving the Black Caps targeting quick wickets in the morning.
“We need to break this partnership,” Henry said. “We know there’ll be a big emphasis on not over-complicating it — there’s still plenty in this wicket and we just need to extract that.
“We’ve all played here at Hagley so I think we know how we want to bowl here. It’s just getting out there and executing it.”
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission
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