Martin swings into Sri Lanka on opening day
Chris Martin wreaked havoc on a juicy Basin Reserve pitch to leave New Zealand in firm control before Thilan Samaraweera's half-century lent the Sri Lankan total some degree of respectability. Martin's 6 for 54 was the best ever figures for a New Zealander against Sri Lanka and restricted them to 211. New Zealand's openers then strengthened their team's hand with a solid start, closing on 52 without loss after bad light stopped play 11 overs before the scheduled close.
Martin quickly justified Stephen Fleming's decision to bowl first after winning what proved to be a crucial toss. Swinging the ball back sharply into the right-handers and extracting steep lift, especially with the new ball, he ripped through Sri Lanka's top order in the first hour, taking three wickets in nine balls to leave them reeling at 41 for 4, a position from which they were never able to full recover despite a fighting 73 from Samaraweera.
Martin, an unlikely looking sportsman with his stiff, pumping run-up and scientist's face, was a class act and head and shoulders above the main support bowlers, including James Franklin, who lacked penetration. New Zealand relied heavily on Martin during the first two sessions, but as he ran out of steam after tea, Nathan Astle stepped up with his accurate dibbly-dobblers, taking 3 for 35 to polish off the tail.
Chaminda Vaas bent the ball around like a banana in his first couple of overs and might easily have accounted for Craig Cumming with one vociferous lbw appeal. But Cumming, who started to leave the ball with brave skill, and James Marshall battled through the key threat of the new ball and then started to capitalise on a few loose offerings from Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof.
Malinga, the first Test hero, beat the bat on a couple of occasions and both openers appeared uncomfortable with his low-arm trajectory, which has stirred up controversy in New Zealand, not because of suspicions over its legality but because umpire Darrell Hair's point-blank refusal to take off his trousers off to help New Zealand's batsmen pick up the deliveries. Hair, somewhat farcically, has insisted that the colour of his trousers is an ICC issue.
Sri Lanka will hope that Hair's trousers provide a constant source of irritation for New Zealand on the second day too because they were hanging on the brink. The morning spice in the pitch appeared to have mellowed and the pitch should now behave far more sensibly than it did the first couple of hours.
The first session, though, may have a large bearing on the outcome of this game. Marvan Atapattu started the procession as he followed his sublime Test hundred in the first Test with his 22nd duck in Test cricket when he sliced to third slip in the first over. Kumar Sangakkara, after a couple of stylish shots, then cut short the brightest partnership of the morning, a brisk 34-run stand with Sanath Jayasuriya, and precipated the innings' freefall by flashing a catch into the gully off a short and wide delivery.
Sangakkara's departure was quickly followed by the loss of two more wickets as Sri Lanka slumped from 34 for 1 to 41 for 4. Mahela Jayawardene's regal hundred in the first game was long forgotten as he lost his balance and was trapped lbw by a curving full-length inswinger. Jayasuriya, who swished his way to 22, was neatly pouched by Astle high to his right after a edging an excellent outswinger.
Samaraweera and Tillakaratne Dilshan attempted a rescue operation but progress was painfully slow as Martin probed away menacingly. Kyle Mills, meanwhile, was less threatening but gun-barrel tight and difficult to score off. Finally, after adding 19 runs in 11.5 overs, Dilshan, who was exposed against the short ball on several occasions, gloved a nasty Martin delivery that cut-back and climbed too sharply for him to take evasive action. The breakthrough brought the uncapped Shantha Kalavitgoda to the crease. Included as an insurance policy in the morning instead of Rangana Herath, the second spinner, Kalavitgoda, 27, couldn't cash in and as he edged to the slips.
Franklin cleaned up Vaas a few minutes after and Sri Lanka were in dire straits on 86 for 7. That was when Samaraweera and Upul Chandana (41) mounted a rescue operation. Samaraweera had been tortuously slow in the morning, scoring 11 from 57 balls, but after lunch he was more fluent. He was helped by some butter-fingered catching throughout the day. Cumming missed a bat-pad catch on 7 and then Fleming spilled slip catches on 9 and 28, the second of which cracked him on the inside of the knee and sent him back to the physiotherapists's couch for the rest of the day.
With Samaraweera steadily growing in stature, playing one lordly extra cover-drive off Astle, Chandana also settled, successfully flicking away boundaries to third man and fine leg. New Zealand grew increasingly frustrated at having let the Sri Lankans off the hook and the eighth-wicket pair added 89 priceless runs. In the end it took a marginal lbw call to separate them as Chandana was hit on the front pad by an Astle inswinger. Sri Lanka had fought back from a perilous situation but the odds were still heavily stacked against them at the end of the day.
Marvan Atapattu c Vincent b Martin 0 (0 for 1)
Fell to sharp catch at third slip.
Kumar Sangakkara c J Marshall b Martin 16 (34 for 3)
Flashed at wide delivery and caught in slips.
Mahela Jayawardene lbw Martin 1 (36 for 3)
Beaten by movement back into his pads.
Sanath Jayasuriya c Astle b Martin 22 (41 for 4)
Edged off-stump delivery low into slips.
Tillakaratne Dilshan c McCullum b Martin (60 for 5)
Gloved while taking evasive action.
Shantha Kalavitigoda c Vincent b Martin 7 (80 for 6)
Edged a good-length ball to second slip.
Chaminda Vaas b Franklin 5 (86 for 7)
Squared up by a full-length outswinger.
Upul Chandana lbw Astle 41 (175 for 8)
Marginal lbw call on front foot
Farveez Maharoof c Vincent b Astle 12 (200 for 9)
Sliced into gully where brilliantly pouched
Thilan Samaweera lbw Astle 73 (211 for 10)
Unluckily adjudged lbw after nicking straight outswinger
Charlie Austin is the editor of Cricinfo in Sri Lanka.