NZ v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Wellington, 1st day April 11, 2005

Delivering when it matters

Chris Martin's swinging burst stunned the Sri Lankans in the first session on the opening day at Wellington © AFP

For one whose season has at best been mixed, Chris Martin is making a habit of delivering when it really matters: when the next round of player contracts are about to be dished out. In the space of two weeks at the end of last season Martin was recalled to the Test side after two years on the outer, took three five-wicket bags in consecutive innings, booked his ticket for the tour of England and, most importantly, regained a central contract.

After not being selected for the Tests in Bangladesh Martin managed eleven wickets at an average of 74 in six appearances this season, including just six at 109 in the last five Tests. If his place in New Zealand Cricket's top 20 was in the balance, Martin's clinical 6 for 54 burst here was perfectly on cue.

From afar it would not be unreasonable to assume Martin had conditions to suit him but while the pitch had a green tinge, the sun shone all day and there was little breeze to speak of. Martin does not struggle to swing the ball but often battles to maintain a demanding line. At Headingley in June with the ball swerving sharply, he was his own worst enemy as England were let off the hook. The same could not be said today as Martin nabbed the Sri Lankan top four by the first drinks break and had 5 for 29 when his opening 11-over stint ended just prior to lunch.

Of Martin's victims only Kumar Sangakkara, whose miserable run continued, could be said to have thrown his wicket away. Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu prodded nervously, Mahela Jayawardena was beaten by swing and Tillakaratne Dilshan was cramped for space. Perhaps the best dismissal of all was that of Shantha Kalavitigoda, the debutant. Martin's shortish delivery started wide but curved in forcing Kalavitigoda to play in an uncontrolled manner that produced the edge.

Martin's display revived memories of Simon Doull's swing-bowling brilliance against India at the Basin Reserve on Boxing Day in 1998 when he reduced them to 16 for 4 en route to Test-best figures of 7 for 65. Martin too has enjoyed success at the ground: only last season he decimated South Africa from 130 for 1 to 265 for 6 with a run of five wickets.

If Martin's performance provided the thrills, Stephen Fleming's demise was a horror show. After being in doubt following his hand injury in the first Test, Fleming botched another catch at first slip then had an edge crash into his knee rather than his hands which forced him from the field. Fleming is one of the best slip-catchers going round and seeing him not even get a hand to a regulation chance is further evidence that all is not well. Not only has he been horribly out of form with the bat and his hands in internationals all summer, he's had to lead a depleted side through the toughest of seasons.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show.