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December 17, 2006
Chamara Silva completed a courageous comeback from the ignominy of a pair on Test debut at Christchurch with a magnificent unbeaten 152, his maiden Test century, on the third day that left New Zealand needing a mountainous 504 for victory - or, more importantly, needing to bat for nine sessions to save the Test. New Zealand's openers made a positive start but Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan both struck just before bad light brought a premature close to leave the hosts 75 for 2.
Silva, the find of the tour for Sri Lanka, started the day on 79 when play commenced 40 minutes late because of overnight rain and morning drizzle and soon set out his stall for a long innings. Although playing just his second Test match, he batted with calm authority throughout, playing some superb strokes during long partnerships of 94 with Prasanna Jayawardene (37) and 88 with Chaminda Vaas (47). Sri Lanka, reluctant to declare, were eventually bowled out for 365. New Zealand were off the field in just 1.3 overs for an early tea as bad light and drizzle returned, but 22 overs were possible in the final session. Jamie How (33) and Craig Cumming (20) were positive from the outset as Sri Lanka wasted the new ball with too many wayward deliveries.
Even Malinga was off-coloured at the start, bowling too short. How, the more positive of the two openers, looked in total control after one ferocious hook into an unsuspecting hot dog stall. But after a quick word from his captain, Malinga returned to his toecrushers and completely surprised How with a knee-high full toss. How tried to turn his back having not picked up the ball before the ball cannoned into his pads and Simon Taufel raised his finger. Next over, having just been called into the attack, Muralitharan found the outside edge of Cumming's bat with his doosra. Stephen Fleming (four not out) and Matthew Sinclair (10 not out) struggled through to the close.
When the cricket did finally resume in the morning, New Zealand choose to defend while they waited for the second new ball. That suited Silva and Prasanna Jayawardene (37) fine and they played themselves in meticulously against James Franklin and Daniel Vettori. The bowling was tight but not menacing on a pitch now offering few horrors for the batsmen. Runs were accumulated steadily and Silva progressed into the 90's without alarm.
Stephen Fleming called back Shane Bond as soon as the new ball was due and Silva quickly took advantage of the harder ball and more offensive fields, carving a boundary down to third man and then driving handsomely down the ground off consecutive balls. The next ball he scampered a quick single and raised his hands aloft in celebration.
It has been a difficult journey for Silva, now 27, who first caught the national selectors' radar back in 1999. However, after a smattering of ODI opportunities in the middle and lower order, he was jettisoned and soon forgotten. But since his last appearance in 2002, he has tightened his technique and strengthened his mind. Having clawed his way back into the A team, he was then fast-tracked back into the national squad having caught the eye of Tom Moody.
His selection in Christchurch ahead of Tillakaratne Dilshan was a surprise and his subsequent failure in both innings left him under extreme pressure here in Wellington. But aside from a couple of anxious moments before getting off the mark in the first innings, he has played with remarkable freedom and confidence, scoring runs all round the wicket with some delightful strokes, the highlight of which were his Aravinda-esque cover drives and some deft late cuts. His 94-run partnership with Jayawardene, who produced a good fighting knock before top edging an attempted pull off Martin, ensured that Sri Lanka were already close to an impregnable position by lunch, already leading by 419 . Nevertheless, Sri Lanka marched on with Silva finding another allay in Chaminda Vaas (47), with whom he added a further 88.
Vaas frustrated New Zealand with his characteristic playing-leaves outside off-stump and Fleming eventually decided to try and bounce him out, positioning three men on the leg side boundaries. But while Vaas miscued a couple, he also scored freely with the pull stroke and the lead piled until Vettori finally broke through with an edge to Brendon McCullum - who returned the gloves today after x-rays showed Lasith Malinga had not fractured his finger on day two. Vettori then polished of the tail quickly, trapping Farveez Maharoof and Lasith Malinga lbw with consecutive deliveries. Muttiah Muralitharan avoided the hat trick but was then stumped next ball after a casual stroll down the pitch. The rush of wickets left Vettori with 7 for 130 from 42.3 overs in the innings and a match analysis of 10 for 183, his third ten-wicket haul in Tests.
Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondentFeeds: Charlie Austin
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