Vettori steers NZ to 52-run lead
Shane Bond ripped through Sri Lanka during an extraordinary day's cricket to leave New Zealand on the verge of victory in the opening Test. Sri Lanka made a promising start with the ball, dismissing New Zealand for 206 to restrict the lead to 52, but then collapsed to 125 for 8 at stumps.
Bond's demolition job started with the fortuitous run-out of Sanath Jayasuriya as he deflected a firm straight drive from Upul Tharanga onto the stumps at the non-striker's end. Despite this cruel blow, Sri Lanka were very much in the game on 44 for 1 an hour after tea, just eight runs adrift of New Zealand.
But just when Bond appeared to be nearing the end of his opening spell, Stephen Fleming pulled off a brilliant one-handed catch at first slip. Tharanga played a slashing drive, Fleming parried the ball up and deftly pouched it between his fingers on the turn. The catch turned the match emphatically towards New Zealand.
Sri Lanka then folded with a succession of soft strokes. The bowling was good but the pitch was far from treacherous and Sri Lanka's middle order will have to shoulder the blame for what should be - barring some heroic batting from Kumar Sangakkara, the last remaining specialist, tomorrow - a heavy defeat.
Mahela Jayawardene erred with a wide drive, edging a James Franklin delivery to slip, Chamara Kapugedera failed to get behind a back-foot drive to be caught at point and Chamara Silva completed a pair on debut as he spooned a slower ball to mid-off. Sri Lanka had lost four wickets for two runs in the space of 24 balls.
Sangakkara did provide some resistance with a gutsy 63 from 97 balls, an innings that grew more belligerent as Sri Lanka's cause became more desperate. However, with the allrounders - Prasanna Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas, Farveez Maharoof - unable to give him substantial support, his efforts are likely to be unrewarded.
The lead now stands at 73 with only Muttiah Muralitharan still to bat. If Lasith Malinga, who looked uncomfortable at the crease before the close, and Muralitharan can stay with Sangakkara to engineer a target of 150 plus then there could still be a remarkable twist to the game. Such a lead, however, seems fanciful.
Sri Lanka will have been bitterly disappointed by their predicament after such a spirited display from their bowlers, especially the two senior pros, Muralitharan and Vaas, but also Malinga who bowled with aggression and discipline. Maharoof chipped in with the key wicket of Stephen Fleming, the breakthrough that prompted a late collapse.
Like Sri Lanka later in the day, New Zealand sacrificed their wickets in a mad flurry. They stumbled from the relative comfort of 106 for 2 to a parlous 113 for 6. Muralitharan snared Craig Cumming and Nathan Astle in the same over and Vaas dismissed Jacob Oram and Brendon McCullum in similar fashion.
Daniel Vettori helped steady the innings with a characteristically industrious 63, adding a crucial 75 with Fleming either side of lunch. While Fleming focused on survival, batting 158 balls for his gritty 48, Vettori frustrated the Sri Lankans as he survived several strong appeals early on and then ticked along at a steady rate.
When the afternoon drinks break arrived, New Zealand were 188 for 6. Sri Lanka, though, clawed themselves back again, claiming the last four wickets for 20 runs to give them a chance of building a decent target for Muralitharan to defend - the main justification for Jayawardene's gamble at the toss. Alas, for Sri Lanka, all the hard work was wasted with another flimsy batting display.