Watling's fightback gives Black Caps hope against Sri Lanka

Niall Anderson - NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Saturday, 17 August 2019, 11:19AM
BJ Watling was in the runs on day three against Sri Lanka. Photo / Getty
BJ Watling was in the runs on day three against Sri Lanka. Photo / Getty

On day three of the first test between the Black Caps and Sri Lanka, the Galle pitch did what everyone expected — it deteriorated.

Unfortunately for the Black Caps, so did the decision-making of their batsmen.

That might not be such a shock either — New Zealand batting collapses in subcontinent conditions have been seen many times before — but a definite surprise was two of the culprits.

Yes, New Zealand's best and most experienced batsmen threw away their wickets as the Black Caps were forced to scrap to 195-7 at stumps, with BJ Watling (63 not out) having to save the day.

They hold a lead of 177 on a pitch where teams have defended scores below 200 in fourth innings; a pitch which is set to provide even more opportunities to New Zealand's spin trio on the penultimate day.

It is a test in the balance, and Watling deserves the plaudits for putting the visitors in with a chance, after Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were part of horrendous top order showing. Williamson could only add four to his first-innings duck, uncharacteristically dismissed trying to loft Lasith Embuldeniya over the infield, but being deceived and skying it to mid-on when Kusal Perera claimed a quality catch tumbling backwards..

Taylor, too, tried to be unnecessarily aggressive, charging down the pitch to Embuldeniya only to be fooled by a wider delivery. Needing to swipe at it to avoid a surefire stumping, he got a thick edge, was gone for three, and the Black Caps slumped to 25-3.

Earlier, New Zealand's bowlers had done well to restrict Sri Lanka to a first innings lead of just 18, eventually breaking through a pesky partnership between Niroshan Dickwella and Suranga Lakmal. The pair added 81 for the eighth wicket – the biggest partnership of the innings – with Lakmal making 40 and Dickwella an excellent, composed, 61.

Two wickets to Will Somerville and one to Trent Boult wrapped up the innings for 267, but Jeet Raval fell before lunch for four, and although Tom Latham (45) and Henry Nicholls (26) added a quick 50 partnership to slightly steady proceedings, their dismissals – and a shocking shot from Mitchell Santner which saw him caught at deep mid-wicket off a terrible delivery – left the Black Caps at 124-6.

Watling was still there though, and as he has umpteen times, led New Zealand's fightback. Some superb assistance from a sedate Tim Southee – who lasted 62 balls in adding a potentially vital 23 runs – saw them add 54 for the seventh wicket, before Somerville dug in to add an unbroken 17.

Bad light stopped play 15 minutes early, but thanks to Watling, the Black Caps walked off with a ray of hope.

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