New Zealand held their nerve to clinch a hard-fought and comprehensive victory against Sri Lanka in fading light in the second Test Monday and level the two-match series 1-1.
Victory was achieved with an hour left on day five when Lasith Embuldeniya edged a short delivery from Trent Boult to Kane Williamson at gully.
Sri Lanka were bowled out for 122 runs after New Zealand declared their second innings on 431 for six with a first-innings lead of 185.
The game went to the last hour of day five at Colombo’s P. Sara Oval, and although 19.4 overs remained when tail-ender Embuldeniya was the last man dismissed, umpires could have called off play at any time with the light fast deteriorating.
New Zealand’s bowlers were hurrying through their deliveries knowing too well that they were racing against time.
The first four days’ play had been severely affected by rain, wet ground conditions and bad light, but surprisingly the final day stayed clear despite a 30-minute delayed start.
Sri Lanka had given away the initiative to New Zealand after losing five wickets for 32 runs before lunch, but a terrific fightback by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella kept their hopes of salvaging a draw.
Dickwella, who wasn’t able to keep wicket having sustained a cut on his left little finger, showed plenty of character during a 51-run knock that lasted for three-and-a-half hours.
It was his 13th half-century in Test cricket.
There was little support from the rest of Sri Lanka’s batsmen, with skipper Dimuth Karunaratne’s 21 being the second-highest score.
Suranga Lakmal and Dickwella had batted for over an hour, but the stand was broken when Lakmal gloved one to close-in fielder Tom Latham after tea.
Sri Lanka were still counting on Dickwella when he fell for his famous sweep shot.
The 26-year-old relies heavily on the shot to score his runs, but on this occasion he had stayed away from taking undue risks.
Ajaz Patel switched ends and came on from the Air Force Flats side, and as Dickwella shaped to play the sweep shot, Latham at short leg moved to his left and positioned himself in the perfect place to snap up the chance.
Dickwella could hardly believe his luck before walking off dejected.
Latham’s close in fielding was brilliant and so was his batting, particularly his battles with Sri Lankan spinners.
The opening batsman was named Man of the Match for his 154, a seven-hour vigil in which he faced 251 deliveries and was involved in two hundred plus run stands.
Tim Southee, Boult, Patel and William Somerville claimed two wickets each while Colin de Grandhomme claimed the big wicket of Angelo Mathews.
“The experience we had in Galle was good, although we lost the game, for us to build up and to make improvements for this game,” New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson told reporters.
“There were some superb individual performances. To score at a fast rate on day four was important because of the amount of time that we had lost in this game.”
Williamson praised the bowlers, adding that Sri Lanka were “an extremely tough team to beat”.
“We were close in Galle but not close enough. It was nice to touch on key areas and win this match and very happy with the result,” he added.
Williamson’s Sri Lankan counterpart Dimuth Karunaratne criticised his team’s approach, saying they were “too defensive” and played into New Zealand’s hands.
“We could have shown more intent. Dickwella batted well but he received little support from the rest of us,” he said.
Karunaratne is known for his rescue missions but the opener was forced to bat after the fall of the fifth wicket as he had stayed away from the field due to quadriceps strain on day three.
“Had I opened the innings, it would have helped me to hold one end up and you never know,” he added.
“We could have stitched a couple of partnerships. All in all it was a very disappointing effort from our boys.”