GALLE: Ross Taylor’s counter-punching innings kept New Zealand alive at the end of a strange day for the visitors, who seemed in control for the most part, except the periods immediately preceding the breaks. Offspinner Akila Dananjaya was responsible for that, taking all five of New Zealand’s wickets to fall on the day over two mini-collapses before lunch and tea.
A third such passage before stumps was not available as heavy rain meant play was called off shortly after tea, meaning 22 overs were lost. Taylor’s attack and his century stand with Henry Nicholls came after New Zealand’s first-session collapse – 64 for 0 to 71 for 3 – and seemed to have evened out the match, before Akila returned to complete a five-for, trapping both Nicholls and BJ Watling in front as they looked to go across the line in the last 15 minutes of the session.
Taylor’s proactiveness and Nicholls’ solidity against spin asked questions of Sri Lanka all through the middle session, and the answers were of a less dramatic variety than had been in the morning session when they showed discipline against the top order. Taylor’s intentions to attack was clear straight into the session, as he looked on edge attempting to force shots against an all-spin strategy. Leading edges, miscued chips, and bat-pad affairs after stepping out were all brought out mere overs into the session, but Taylor’s gamble paid off. When he finally met a Lasith Emuldeniya delivery at the pitch and drilled it past the bowler for four, Sri Lanka lapsed immediately on to the defensive. Long-on went out, as did midwicket, and mid-off was forced deeper too. Even for Nicholls, singles were suddenly on easy offer.
Soon, Akila was out of the attack and a scoring rate of just over 2.3 in the first session was steadily outdone with a session rate closer to 3.5, with hardly any risks needed after the initial few. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne’s defensive ploy especially affected Embuldeniya, who was clearly frazzled by Taylor. The left-arm spinner wasn’t allowed to toss the ball up and settled into hitting the back of the length with a flatter trajectory, a method Akila had shown wasn’t feasible on this pitch during the morning session. The pressure grew even further, with Akila’s spell lasting only five overs, effectively placing the burden of controlling the run-scoring on a 22-year-old in his third Test, with even the slightly more seasoned bowling of Dhananjaya de Silva neutralised.