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April 8, 2005
The first Test, which had apparently been heading towards an inevitable stalemate after the high first-innings totals on a docile Napier pitch, crackled into life on the final morning before fading out into a draw when bad light stopped play shortly after tea. Nevertheless, New Zealand, apparently safe after scoring a mountainous 561, were given a real fright by Sri Lanka's freakish new fast bowler, Lasith Malinga, who snapped up his first Test five-for and a virgin Man-of-the-Match award with a superb display.
Malinga, who started New Zealand's problems in the fading light on the fourth evening, striking twice before the close of play, sent tremors through the New Zealand dressing-room with his Waqar Younis-like reverse swinging toecrushers, a skill learnt while playing softball cricket for hour after hour in the coconut groves around Galle. The game turned around with remarkable speed as New Zealand crumbled from 51 without loss to 148 for 7 at lunch. With a lead of just 211, the quick clatter of the remaining wickets could have paved the way for a Sri Lanka win.
But Stephen Fleming's late arrival at the crease stopped the New Zealand meltdown. He had earlier been forced to retire hurt after being able to grip the bat properly with his left hand, which was injured in the field, but clung on at the crease like a limpet, eating up precious time and overs during a 20.3 over partnership with Lou Vincent after lunch. New Zealand were eventually bowled out for 238 but that left Sri Lanka facing an impossible target of 302 from 27 overs.
Vincent's fine contribution to saving the game cannot be overestimated. Arriving at the crease with New Zealand in a mess on 85 for 4, he reacted to the intense pressure well and was not forced into his shell, an approach that could have been fatal. From his first shot, a neat paddle-sweep to leg, he actively searched out scoring opportunities, intelligently striking the right balance between attack and defence. His run scoring dried up slightly during the afternoon session but his 52 from 112 balls was an invaluable hand in the circumstances.
Sri Lanka, though, felt aggrieved that Vincent stood his ground and was given an apparent let-off after driving a low catch to Tillakaratne Dilshan at short cover. Dilshan and the surrounding fielders were convinced the catch was taken cleanly - so convinced that there was not even an appeal - but Vincent, as is quite entitled to do, waited for clarification. With the umpires unsure the decision went upstairs to the television and, predictably, the pictures left an element of doubt as they so often do for bump catches.
That was a crucial moment but Sri Lanka were also unlucky later in the session when Kyle Mills snicked one off Malinga and should have been given out by Steve Bucknor. It was Bucknor's third clear mistake in the innings after Hamish Marshall's caught-behind reprieve the previous evening which was followed by a dreadful lbw decision. Whether the decisions were crucial to the games outcome though is debatable - the first blunder was cancelled out by the second and the third came too late in the day.
Sri Lanka eventually broke through in the second hour of the post-lunch session as Upul Chandana, who was called into the fray surprisingly late considering the fifth-day footmarks, sneaked through Vincent's defences while bowling into the rough from around the wicket. But by that stage the door had already closed for Sri Lanka with the lead being 264 with too few overs and the only prize available was a fifth wicket for Malinga, which he deservedly took to finish with 9 for 210 from 59.4 overs.
It was a riveting contribution. While other more orthodox bowlers were frustrated by the unhelpful pitch he was a constant threat. Revealingly, he bowled the most overs for Sri Lanka in both innings and yet never seemed to tire, constantly stretching his small frame like an elastic band in the hope of another spell. By contrast, Chaminda Vaas had a poor game match apart from his first spell on the first morning, bowling at a pedestrian pace and lacking his customary incisiveness on flat pitches.
In the morning, Malinga followed up his two wickets in Thursday's fading light with a first-over dismissal of the nightwatchman, Paul Wiseman, who missed a low full toss. A few moments later Malinga also bowled Nathan Astle (19) with a yorker but, for the second time in the match, the bails did not fall. Then, right at the end of the session after being called up for the final over, Malinga knocked back James Franklin's off stump.
In between, Sanath Jayasuriya played a crucial hand with his canny and mean left-arm spin. Keeping a lid on the scoring he built up pressure, stopping New Zealand from pulling away, and he also chimed in with a couple of vital wickets, including James Marshall who was trapped lbw after missing an arm ball, and Brendon McCullum.
Astle's good fortune to survive Malinga was followed in the second hour by a wretchedly unlucky dismissal when Jayasuriya managed to deflect a straight-drive back onto the stumps at the non-striker's end. Astle's bat hovered just millimeters about the crease-line but the television umpire correctly ruled him out - a wicket that effectively put Sri Lanka in the driver's seat. Fleming and Vincent though thwarted their victory bid.
Paul Wiseman lbw Malinga 0 (69 for 3) Missed a low full toss.
James Marshall lbw Jayasuriya 39 (85 for 4) Missed an arm ball that would have crashed into middle-and-leg.
Nathan Astle run out 19 (115 for 5) Run out at the non-striker's end after Jayasuriya deflected a drive.
Brendon McCullum c Samaraweera b Jayasuriya 7 (128 for 6) Outside edge to slip as he tried to work to leg.
James Franklin b Malinga 7 (148 for 7) Outside edge to slip as he tried to work to leg.
Lou Vincent b Chandana 52 (181 for 8) Yorked himself while playing to leg out of the rough.
Kyle Mills c Jayasuriya b Herath 22 (222 for 9) Mistimed heave over the top, simple catch to mid-on.
Stephen Fleming c Kulasekera b Malinga 41 (238 for 10) Top edged a pull into the deep.
Charlie Austin is the editor of Cricinfo in Sri Lanka