Malinga strikes amid fading light
The opening Test drifted towards stalemate during the fourth day as Sri Lanka's first innings ran out of steam in the afternoon and then New Zealand idled in the second innings, apprently content to gain a psychological advantage and rest their bowlers for the second and final Test, which will start after a two-day break over the weekend. Having bowled out Sri Lanka for 498, New Zealand closed on 64 for 2 after 30 overs, with a lead off 123.
James Franklin was the star performer for New Zealand, rescuing his bowling figures after a lacklustre third day, with a fine display of reverse-swing bowling. By the middle of the afternoon the ball was swerving around dangerously and Sri Lanka's long tail crumbled, with five wickets falling in a 96-minute afternoon session. Franklin finished with 4 for 126 and Chris Martin, previously the most penetrative bowler, took 4 for 132.
Lasith Malinga, another reverse-swinger, also posed problems with the old ball and provided some much-needed entertainment with an exciting spell late in the day. Bowling curling yorkers at a brisk pace, he produced a painful toecrusher to send Craig Cumming limping off the field adjudged leg-before. Shortly afterwards, with the light starting to fade, he rattled Hamish Marshall and should have been awarded a caught-behind decision by Steve Bucknor, who followed the mistake with an even worse misjudgment later in the over, adjudging Marshall lbw to a delivery that was swinging down to fine leg.
New Zealand sent in a nightwatchman, Paul Wiseman, who was then relieved to be offered the light before Malinga's next over. James Marshall was unbeaten on 33 at the close with an excellent chance to cement his place in the side in good light on the final day. The pitch remained docile and the only serious threat to the batsmen - in absence of both the team's match-winning spinners - has thus been reverse-swing.
Sri Lanka started the morning brightly with Thilan Samaraweera (88) unveiling several well-timed drives to the boundary to quickly bring up his fifty. At the other end, Mahela Jayawardene waited patiently for over 20 minutes before opening his account for the day, which he did in some style with a mountainous thwack over deep mid-wicket off Wiseman that sailed over the ropes. It looked ominous for New Zealand as a fast rate of scoring might have left Sri Lanka with a handy lead mid-way through the final session and a chance to apply some pressure.
But halfway through the morning, Nathan Astle started to banana-swing the ball and then Franklin found just enough away movement to find the edge of Jayawardene's defensive bat, ending a 125-run stand. His huge disappointment was obvious: while 141 from 243 balls was a wonderful effort and an innings full of delightfully silky strokeplay, he knew he'd missed an opportunity on such a flat pitch to really cash in
The departure of Jayawardene slowed Samaraweera's progress and he added just a handful of runs to a 45-run stand with Dilshan, who played a strange cameo, never quite looking at ease. Dilshan started with a legside-heave off Wiseman and thereafter concentrated mainly on the cover-drive and finding the boundary rather than working ones or twos. Stephen Fleming sensed an impatience within Dilshan's approach and filled the covers with catchers. In the end, though, the short covers were not necessary as Dilshan self-destructed, slapping a delivery from Martin straight to Lou Vincent at orthodox extra-cover. If Jayawardene had chided himself quietly on his departure, Dilshan should have been fuming inside at his wastefulness.
After lunch, Samaraweera looked set to notch up a fifth Test hundred. But Martin, arms still pumping like a high jumper despite a heavy workload, extracted some extra bounce which surprised Samaraweera. He tried to take evasive action too late and in the end almost guided the ball to Fleming at first slip. The breakthrough laid the tail bare and precipitated a final collapse.
Then Franklin swept into action, reverse-swinging the old ball away from the right-handers and darting it into the left-handers. After Chaminda Vaas had top-edged a sweep off Wiseman - who lacked fizz and struggled against spin-loving batsmen - Franklin ripped through Rangana Herath's defences and then found Nuwan Kulasekera's outside edge before Upul Chandana skied a catch looking for quick runs.
Mahela Jayawardene c McCullum b Franklin 141 (407 for 4)
Nibbled at a short-of-a-length ball angled towards the slips.
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Vincent b Martin 28 (452 for 5)
Slapped an on-the-up drive straight to extra-cover.
Thilan Samaraweera c Fleming b Martin 88 (463 for 6)
Surprised by extra bounce and edged, almost guided, to first slip.
Chaminda Vaas c Astle b Wiseman 17 (488 for 7)
Caught at short fine-leg while sweeping.
Rangana Herath b Franklin 0 (491 for 8)
Beaten by a ball that darted back through the gate.
Nuwan Kulasekera c Fleming b Franklin 0 (497 for 9)
Edged an outswinger to first slip.
Upul Chandana c Martin b Franklin 19 (498 all out)
Skied a catch looking for quick runs.
Craig Cumming lbw Malinga 16 (51 for 1)
Missed an inswinging toecrusher.
Hamish Marshall lbw Malinga 6 (64 for 2)
Unluckily adjudged out to a delivery that swung in late and appeared to be missing leg.
Charlie Austin is the editor of Cricinfo in Sri Lanka