NZ v SL, 1st Test, Dunedin, 2nd day December 11, 2015

Sri Lanka's delightfully drab day

For a team used to frequent collapses from its brittle batting line-up, a partnership of 122 in 48.5 overs between Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal was a pleasantly surprising display of restraint
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Arnold: Sri Lanka weren't intimidated by conditions

In August this year, Sri Lanka lost half their side for less than 110 in five of their six Test innings against India. In the previous series, against Pakistan, Yasir Shah and company had spun out, reverse-swung, and metaphorically undressed them. Sri Lanka batted a little better against a modest West Indies side [see current score of Hobart Test] in October, but even in that series lost 6 for 29 to Kraigg Brathwaite, who had had three first-class scalps until then. Sri Lanka have, in short, been caliphs of the collapse in 2015.

But now, on a difficult tour, with a No. 3 on debut and an opener in his second match, they have survived until the second new ball. Sri Lanka may still give up a large first-innings lead. They haven't yet avoided the follow-on. But after the 12 months this top order has had, their mere competence on day two was cause for celebration. On a deck still dancing for a good seam attack, 197 for 4 was gloriously, resplendently - even triumphantly - adequate.

New Zealand had sped at over four-and-a-half runs an over on the first day, but Sri Lanka progressed at mellower pace. There is another reason to rejoice. Given the number of occasions their batsmen have been out playing attacking shots recently, their stonewalling was almost heroic. They hit no more than 20 from the first 10 overs, and sure, they also lost a wicket in that period, but to be mired in such minutiae is to miss the point. They were a little rubbish, beaten wafting on several occasions, but the thing is, they weren't nearly as bad as they are capable of being. In a season in which so many uncontrolled shots have carried directly to the slips, the fact that Dimuth Karunaratne's inadvertent edge in the second over carried well over the cordon was the kind of progress that should bring a tear to the eye.

After so many spiralling-inferno innings, each Sri Lanka defensive shot now took on a scintillating aspect. The leaves, of which there were many, were all sublime in their passivity. The forward-defensives - so sure, so secure - were marvelously unambitious. For about a session and a half, Sri Lanka played dazzlingly morose cricket, progressing until the 36th over at a run rate of 1.83. A sparse Dunedin crowd was coaxed gently to sleep, but 10,000 kilometres away, in Galle, Kandy and Colombo, fans rising to their day will have been thrilled to the core by the scoreline.

Restraint was particularly impressive from the two batsmen who combined to provide the guts of Sri Lanka's total with a 122-run stand. Karunaratne had once been the opener who flashed his bat in the early overs like a rapier, before falling on his sword when a substantial score beckoned. Now, he is a man desperate to continue to the big scores. He has expanded his off-side play at home recently, unlocking previously barren areas of the field, but he pared his cricket down to basics in Dunedin. A great majority of his runs came through that naturally-favoured leg side.

"The new ball had a lot more shape, so when I started, I had wanted to get through that period," Karunaratne said. "Boult bowled some good lines, and though I'm pretty confident with my off-side drives, I thought that maybe I'd make a mistake with them. I tried to wait for their mistakes, and I wanted to get those straight balls. So when they did that I was able to hit straight and through leg. Once the ball lost its shine a little, I played a few more off-side shots."

Dinesh Chandimal, whose most memorable Test innings so far has been that strapping, reverse-slapping 169-ball 162 against India, was even more reticent for most of his stay. He took 46 balls to reach double figures, and 83 deliveries to hit his first boundary. After 116 balls, his score was still 31. Only after tea was a little of Chandimal's innate aggression seen at the University Oval. He finished the day on 83 not out, after Karunaratne had struck 84. Both innings were chanceless, apart of course from the under-edge that got Karunaratne out.

As stumps drew near, even Kithuruwan Vithanage, who had been bowled playing a ludicrous reverse-sweep in his previous Test, contributed 10 not out from 49 deliveries. The boredom he imposed on spectators was the final cherry to top a delightfully drab day. If Sri Lanka want to emerge from the opening new-ball spells unscathed on Saturday, Vithanage and Chandimal will need to commit whole-heartedly again to inaction.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Charith Dissanayake on December 12, 2015, 4:19 GMT

    why Sri Lankans are playing negative cricket like this?bad mind set and fear is affecting them.

  • Zafar on December 12, 2015, 4:01 GMT

    50 more runs and I would have been applauding Srilankans here. Nevertheless its much better after a lot of time. Best wishes from Pakistan.

  • chris on December 12, 2015, 2:20 GMT

    Ha ha ha ha! hilarious article....I love it.

  • sriyantha on December 12, 2015, 1:03 GMT

    So far, even bowlers Herath, Chameera, Lakmal did a much better job in batting than, Kusal Mendis, Kithruwan & debutante Jayasundera planted in the squad as batters.

    Two freebies from Southee on the leg-side to glance at vacant fine leg area to add 8 runs to his 14... next delivery slanted away and there goes the superhero batter Kithruwan Vithange edging the ball to keep-up his marvelous record of 92 runs @ 11 Av from his past 8 Tests innings to 114 @ 12 Av from 9 Test innings. SL Selectors take note of his justification please.... more to come from him to secure his place for the next decade, with your blessings :)

  • sriyantha on December 11, 2015, 22:38 GMT

    Two freebies on the leg-side to add 8 runs to his 14... and there goes the superhero Kithruwan Vithange edging the ball to keep-up his marvelous record of 92 runs @ 11 Av from his past 8 Tests innings to 114 @ 12 Av from 9 Test innings. SL Selectors take note of his justification please.... surely more of it to come for him to secure his place, for the next decade with your blessings :)) On the other hand, 30 year old Milinda's long experience (even limited to domestic matches) demonstrates how to survive while scoring runs.

  • arjun on December 11, 2015, 16:42 GMT

    yes.. take your time and bat slowly.. you have won tests in England.. you can win in NZ... Matthews needs this kind of support.. one of the innings when all of you click then there will be a massive total!

  • Ranil on December 11, 2015, 13:31 GMT

    It was great to see the battling partnership between Dimuth & Chanimal & hope more to savour will be in the offing .

  • Dave on December 11, 2015, 12:19 GMT

    Fantastic stuff, cricket writing from the top drawer...still laughing.

  • Neranjan on December 11, 2015, 12:13 GMT

    To be honours I am surprised to see them applying and battling out there. Indeed they have come of age, Karunarathne and Chandimal , which is really good to see. If they could continue like this it will be really good for the sri lankan cricket. I see the Jerom Jayarathne has given them a good direction, and the results he has brought to sri lankan cricket has shown it. I hope they would continue with him and give him a good stretch. But the bad part is when you see some stability in the cricket team... Things are heating up is the board, and destabilizing things with the elections coming up. Which will inevitably will change this whole setup again. I think we could go forward with out a cricket board, and politicians.... and the world will be a better place with out them... too bad that we have to live with them.

  •   Stephen Carran on December 11, 2015, 9:49 GMT

    It's also really nice to see records being broken from both sides, destined for the boards that will be looked upon by youngsters and up and comings of the future.

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