Bad light again brought a slightly premature end to proceedings on day four in Colombo, but not before New Zealand had got themselves back in with a realistic chance of leveling the two-match series.
Only 16 wickets fell on the first three days, but today there were 17 as Sri Lanka’s last four added just 19 runs, New Zealand struggled prior to Ross Taylor’s 74, and Sri Lanka lost their top-order cheaply for the second time in the match.
The day began with the home side on 225 for six in their first innings and with high hopes of reducing their first innings deficit to something in double figures. However, Thilan Samaraweera was set up by Trent Boult with the second new ball without adding to his overnight score. After bringing two balls into Samaraweera, Boult moved one away and found the edge, which carried through to Martin Guptill in the slips.
The tail then folded relatively quickly a Suraj Randiv handed Boult his third by being trapped in front, and Nuwan Kulasekara gave Tim Southee his fifth of the innings, edging a drive to Ross Taylor at slip. The innings ended at 244 with Rangana Herath being caught spectacularly by a diving Williamson in the gully.
All of which meant that New Zealand had a healthy lead of 168 and could now begin to dream of forcing a win. Unfortunately, after a bright start, they began to lose wickets. After reaching 59 for two at lunch with both openers back in the hutch, they lost three for one in four balls not long after the resumption. Kane Williamson chased a wide one to Tharanga Paranavitana, Daniel Flynn was trapped in front the very next ball by the same bowler, and in the next over, Kruger van Wyk completed a pair by being dispatched by Herath.
Now at 75 for five, it was suddenly Sri Lanka who harboured hopes of coming away with a win only for the momentum of the match to change yet again. Ross Taylor found more than adequate support from debutant Todd Astle and the two added a crucial 97 for the sixth-wicket. Indeed it was Astle who began as the more aggressive of the two, pulling Kulasekara over square-leg and lofting Herath over mid-wicket, before Taylor’s class shone through. He rotated the strike skilfully and, despite hitting only two boundaries, still managed to score his 74 at a strike rate of close to 80.
Astle’s wicket just after tea brought forth another flurry of wickets and Taylor decided to declare the innings closed at 194 for nine, setting Sri Lanka a generous 363 to win in almost three and a half sessions.
Southee again struck early, this time first ball, as Paranavitana missed an in-swinger and was struck on the pads. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara tried to recover things and put on 35 in less than seven overs, but the day ended with another clatter of wickets.
Dilshan aimed a footless drive at a Southee out-swinger; Sangakkara was bowled off the thigh pad by Doug Bracewell; who then had the captain Mahela Jayawardene caught behind for just five. That made a mini-collapse of three for 11 and New Zealand were left needing just six more wickets on the final day to secure an unlikely win. Sri Lanka, who can surely draw inspiration from South Africa’s remarkable feat just a few days ago, need 316 more to win or, more probably, to survive 90 overs.
© Cricket World 2012
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