GALLE – New Zealand’s troubles against spin refused to leave them. They had few answers against R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha during the tour of India, and ran into Rangana Herath in Galle in conditions less lethal. Under sunny skies on a track good for batting, New Zealand failed to take advantage after winning the toss, allowing a disciplined Sri Lankan attack to first make inroads through pace before capitulating to Herath’s left-arm spin. The assistance to the bowlers was limited, but a lack of patience from the batsmen combined with some probing bowling to produce enough mistakes that won Sri Lanka wickets and first-day honours.
The highlights for New Zealand on a disappointing day were half-centuries to Brendon McCullum and Daniel Flynn, who put together a 90-run stand after three wickets went down in the first hour. But just as the innings was gaining in momentum after lunch, Herath struck to trigger a collapse that was to fetch him his fourth haul of five or more wickets in Galle.
McCullum hasn’t scored a Test century in two years, and the previous time Flynn scored a Test fifty was in August 2009. Today, the pair, for the bulk of their stay, batted with determination after having watched Martin Guptill be caught driving inside the line, Ross Taylor be bowled trying to defend outside the line and Kane Williamson be snapped behind to a needless poke. Shaminda Eranga, who replaced Chanaka Welegedera, picked up two of those wickets, the extra yard of pace, consistency with bowling on a good length and a bit of away movement also contributing to his success.
As they were trying to rebuild the innings, McCullum and Flynn had some moments of discomfort but were more watchful than their top order team-mates had been, leaving tricky deliveries outside off, covering the line well and defending solidly. And despite the attacking fields set, Flynn had three slips and two gullys at one stage, they were harsh on a steady dose of bad balls. Flynn cashed in on width, collecting boundaries through cover and point, improvised against spin by using the sweep and pulled the slower of the seamers, Angelo Mathews, through midwicket.
The pull was the preferred attacking shot against spin for McCullum, who smashed four boundaries through square leg, one that took him past 4000 runs in Tests and another that sailed over the ropes. He welcomed Eranga in his new spell by cracking him through extra cover and then behind square for fours, and grew confident against Herath by stepping out and launching him for a straight six. But the bowler wasn’t flustered. If the previous ball was tossed up and bowled on a length, he held back the next from round the wicket, and got it to turn away after it angled in, beating McCullum’s bat to crash into off stump.
The turn on offer wasn’t alarming but still significant for a first-day pitch, and McCullum’s dismissal together with spin from both ends brought about a stagnation in New Zealand’s innings that had been moving fluently until then. The next 13 overs yielded just 12 runs as well as the wicket of James Franklin, who was trapped in front by Herath. Flynn had occupied one end safely but his patience deserted him at the stroke of tea, when he chased a wide one from Herath to nick a catch to the wicketkeeper.
New Zealand have a long, inexperienced lower order whose ability to resist has not inspired much hope in recent times, but the last four wickets did put together 66 runs today. Doug Bracwell was caught at slip off a Herath delivery that kicked from a good length, and Kruger van Wyk, after working hard to get to 28, misjudged the length while trying to sweep and gave Herath his fifth wicket.
New Zealand got some encouragement with the early dismissal of the nervous debutant Dimuth Karunaratne, who was lbw to an inswinger from Southee. The new ball swung around, came perilously close to the outside edge and promised more anxious moments for the Sri Lankan batsmen in the early part of the second day. But that was a small victory for New Zealand on a day they won a good toss, only to finish with a below-par total.
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