Murali spins Sri Lanka to series leveller
Muttiah Muralitharan was the ringmaster, claiming his ninth ten-wicket haul of the year, as Sri Lanka wrapped a series-levelling 217-run victory just before tea on day four at the Basin Reserve. Only Daniel Vettori (51) and James Franklin (44) provided substantial resistance as New Zealand, set a towering 504 run target, were bowled out for 286 in 85.1 overs.
Muralitharan wrapped up an incredible year with 6 for 87, completing a match analysis of 10 for 118, the fifth time he has taken ten-fors in his last six Test matches. His latest haul, achieved on a slow and drying pitch, left him with 90 wickets from 11 Tests during the calendar year: an amazing performance even by Muralitharan's prolific standards. Murali now has a 10-wicket match-haul against each of the Test playing nations,
Sri Lanka's discovery of the series, Chamara Silva, was rightly adjudged the Man of the Match for his superb comeback from a pair in Christchurch, scoring 61 and 152 not out. Mahela Jayawardene hailed his performance afterwards: "There were some brilliant performances, including Sanga's hundred, Malinga's bowling in the first innings and Murali, but Chamara's batting in this game was magnificent. He showed immense character to comeback in the way he did after a pair in the first Test." Stephen Fleming admitted that his team had been thoroughly outplayed, identifying "the unorthodox nature of the Sri Lanka attack" as the key problem for his team.
New Zealand, starting the day on 75 for 2, survived the best part of an hour without losing a wicket as Stephen Fleming (27) and Matthew Sinclair (37) played themselves in diligently against Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan. But the first change in the bowling brought instant success as Fleming was sucked into a loose drive to Lasith Malinga's second ball of the day and was caught behind.
Thereafter, the wickets fell in a slow drip. No New Zealand top order batsman passed fifty in the match and there were no substantial partnerships. Sri Lanka's ground fielding was a little ragged, but their bowling was gun-barrel accurate and Jayawardene was always asking different questions with his innovative fields. Behind the stumps, Kumar Sangakkara chirped away happily.
Sinclair was the next to go and the first of Muralitharan's scalps, deceived by a perfectly pitched doosra that caught the outside edge and carried low to Jayawardene's left at slip. After 33 balls of defiance, Nathan Astle was trapped lbw to Muralitharan for the third time in the series, pinned to his back foot by a quick 95kmh delivery that still spun sharply.
The Sri Lankans were now in full chorus, sensing the start of New Zealand's final slide. Vaas returned to the attack - with Sangakkara standing up to the stumps - and Jacob Oram, handicapped by his thigh injury, was somewhat predictably trapped lbw, stumbling across his stumps. Sri Lanka then rounded off a good morning's work with the wicket of Brendon McCullum, who chopped on having been surprised by Muralitharan's extravagant turn from around the wicket.
Sri Lanka were frustrated after the interval by a 96-run stand between Vettori and Franklin. Both players had moments of good fortune, most notably Vettori who was bowled by a glorious Malinga yorker that was harshly called a no ball and later cracked on the wrist by a brutish lifter, but they battled hard and showed the kind of application that was missing in New Zealand's top order.
But Muralitharan, shortly after Vettori became the first New Zealander to pass fifty in the match, finally broke through in the second hour of the afternoon with a doosra. Vettori missed the change in action and padded away only to see the ball pitch and straighten. Franklin then tried to raise the tempo, lofting one huge six off Muralitharan over mid-wicket, but the innings was soon wrapped up with Shane Bond nicking behind and Franklin hoisting a catch into the deep.
Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent