Marshall twins bolster New Zealand
New Zealand's fuzzy-haired Marshall twins helped restore their team's bruised confidence on the first day of the postponed Sri Lanka series. They laid the foundations for a large total with a century partnership either side of lunch and then Hamish Marshall carried New Zealand into a position of dominance at the close with an impressive and unflappable second Test century. Bad light stopped play with New Zealand on 267 for 3 and Hamish on 133 not out.
The first session had been evenly contested after Stephen Fleming won the toss and Sri Lanka's bowlers showed none of the rustiness that might have been expected after a five-month period without Test cricket. But after a cautious start, the pendulum swung emphatically New Zealand's way during the afternoon as Hamish bedded down, the pitch flattened, the outfield quickened and the ball softened.
Play was called off six overs early because of bad light and the appearance of Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka's most penetrative bowler, for one final burst, possibly with the new ball. Malinga's science-defying catapult action created pace and awkward bounce throughout the day. Moreover, his deliveries were so difficult to pick up that the New Zealand openers asked the umpires to unbutton their collars and take off their maroon ties.
Sri Lanka's other bowlers were disciplined but rarely threatening and Muttiah Muralitharan, who flew to Lancashire early this morning to start pre-season training and the final stage of his shoulder surgery recovery, was sorely missed. Chaminda Vaas started well, swinging the ball in the morning, but appeared to run out of gas in the afternoon and bowled at a gentle pace. Nuwan Kulasekera bubbled with enthusiasm on his Test debut and was gunbarrel straight all day. However, apart from a spilled chance in his first over, he was rarely threatening.
Later in the game the dry pitch may turn and become increasingly variable in bounce, but today it offered little encouragement to the spinners. Rangana Herath and Upul Chandana, backed up by the part-timers Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan, all failed to contain Hamish, who was unafraid to use his feet and also swept well. In the end, the spinners proved relatively expensive, with Herath conceding 48 runs from 13 overs.
James Marshall, a flexible middle-order-cum-opener who was first called up in the final Test against Australia, scored his first Test fifty and was patient and cautious during a crucial grafting innings that allowed New Zealand to safely negotiate the new ball. Runs came slowly in the morning but there was only one casualty, Craig Cumming (12), who trapped plumb in front by a trademark inswinger from Vaas (35 for 1).
Chandana did take one wicket, though, during the course of the day when James, watched from the stands by his grandmother, prodded diffidently at a legbreak and was caught at slip (142 for 2). He nearly grabbed the wicket of Fleming too. Looking edgy and impatient, Fleming danced down the track to get off the mark and came close to offering a chance to short midwicket.
Fleming and Hamish added 45 for the third wicket before being separated after tea by Malinga, who produced a fiery burst that threatened a Sri Lanka comeback. A nasty short ball was followed by a full-length delivery and Fleming, his feet glued to the crease in uncertainty, chopped onto his stumps. A few balls later a short ball flew off Nathan Astle's glove over the slips.
But after an uncomfortable start against Malinga, Astle settled in with Marshall and by the close the pair had added 80 for the fourth wicket. Sri Lanka will look again towards Malinga on day two for inspiration with the second new ball due from the start. The first hour will be crucial as, without early wickets, New Zealand will surely coast towards a mammoth score.
Before the start, New Zealand confirmed the call-up of allrounder Kyle Mills, who replaced Daniel Vettori. Vettori wasn't New Zealand's only injury problem either with Scott Styris (knee), Jacob Oram (back), Ian Butler (back), Darryl Tuffey (bicep) and Michael Papps (finger) all unavailable for the two-Test series. Sri Lanka also have injury problems with Murali and Nuwan Zoysa both recovering from surgery.
Sri Lanka, who have fond memories of McLean Park in Napier, having won their first-ever Test outside the subcontinent at the same venue back in 1995, were positive in their selection, resisting the safe option of selecting seven frontline batsman so they could play five bowlers, including two spinners. Shantha Kalavitigoda, Farveez Maharoof and Ruchira Perera were the players omitted from the touring party.
Cummings lbw b Vaas 12 (35 for 1)
Trapped plumb in front by off-stump inswinger.
James Marshall c Samaraweera b Chandana 52 (142 for 2)
Pushed forward without conviction and edged leg break to slip.
Stephen Fleming b Malinga 16 (187 for 3)
Chopped on after being caught on the crease.