Tearaway Chameera takes the Test by the scruff
All through the series, Dushmantha Chameera has been trying to get Angelo Mathews' attention. He seems to know he is not trusted with the new ball yet. But maybe, he feels, he deserves the first-change role. During the early overs in Dunedin, and for much of day two's first session in Hamilton, Chameera was seen warming up extravagantly in the infield, throwing a windmill arm into Mathews' field of vision, kicking a scarecrow leg up in his direction. When that failed, he stared his captain down, hoping maybe to catch a stray glance.
Even by this team's standards Chameera is a junior player, so he can't really demand the ball. What else could he do? Set off a vine of firecrackers at deep point? Hire an old-timey town crier to shout his case?
As the quickest bowler on show from either team, Chameera has also had the crowd's interest. So many would have wondered why he wasn't being brought on earlier that Chameera could have begun a petition, collected thousands of signatures, then fed it all to a goat, because, frankly, there seemed to be no way Mathews was letting him anywhere near the new ball this series. On Saturday, Rangana Herath bowled an over before Chameera did.
Ball finally in hand in the 21st, Chameera leaks 13 runs while he settles his sights. By the second over in his spell, the legs are pumping. The speeds have climbed. Tom Latham, fresh from a ton in Dunedin, sees the leg slip and short gully. He is prepared for the bouncer, yet the ball still comes roaring at him. The fifth delivery would have flattened his grille, had he not ducked beneath it. The next one, into the ribs at 142kph, is fended to that leg gully. The batsman seems a little hapless in that stroke, but people don't take much notice of the quality of the bowling just yet. It is just another unfulfilled Latham start for now.
When Kane Williamson falls, you start to wonder. His hook shot in Chameera's next over climbs high. It settles in deep square leg's hands. The openers had put on a relatively relaxed 81, but suddenly, there is life in this Test. Martin Guptill falls at the other end. Then Ross Taylor gets a monster. It might be the ball of the series, lifting sharply from short of a good length, hurrying into his personal space. The best Taylor can do is push at it in front of his nose. The deflection off the glove is snaffled up. Chameera seems like the kind of person who would apologise profusely if he bumped you in a queue, but he is charged up in Hamilton, happily hurling balls at people's heads. He is taking the Test by the scruff.
"Kane Williamson's was the wicket I was happiest with, because I think he's the best batsman in New Zealand," Chameera later said. "When we started bowling we realised there was pace and bounce, so we just thought we'd unsettle the batsmen that way and get a wicket. I think we were successful with the bouncer."
All day, no batsman could play him confidently. Brendon McCullum had run at Chameera and carved the ball for six in Dunedin. Here he was turned into a series of upright, evasive spasms. Another bowler would eventually get him out, but Chameera had first bullied him into reticence. McCullum was 7 off 34 balls at one point; 18 from 54 when he got out.
Then a long anticlimax. An hour passed after Chameera's first-seven over spell. The tea break came and went, and still, there was no sign of him. When two hours had gone by, fans around the world became impatient on social media. On the field, Mathews seemed to have forgotten Chameera existed. The bowler went through his attention-seeking warm-up routine again. He stretched, he lunged, he waved his arms. He tried everything for a second time in the day - except maybe take his trousers off and swing them above his head.
When Chameera was given the ball again - to bowl the 69th over - the Hamilton crowd was merely piqued. Had the Test match been in Colombo, tears of joy would have broken out, and everybody would have put on party hats. Chameera gave away a few quick runs, of course, but the wickets came just as quickly. Tim Southee top-edged another ball to fine leg. Neil Wagner slapped an off-side snorter to cover.
It is a strange thing to ponder. A Sri Lankan tearaway turning an overseas Test? Most words in that sentence seem wrong. And each of his five wickets were from bouncers. Are Sri Lankans even allowed to do that?
Someone should tell Chameera that Sri Lankan pacemen have found their feet in New Zealand before. Chaminda Vaas did it in 1995. Lasith Malinga had a breakthrough Test in Napier. Whether Chameera will be remembered as one of Sri Lanka's greatest - like Vaas - or burn brightly and briefly - like Malinga - may be decided by his fitness over long Test seasons.
But maybe it's too soon to think of any of that. For now, a lot hinges on whether Mathews will ever bloody give the guy the ball.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando