'Two more wickets would have made it a good day' - Vettori
Getting the little things right in order to maximise the opportunity for victory is something Daniel Vettori has stressed repeatedly over New Zealand's stay in Sri Lanka. Today, having lost the toss on a notorious batting track at a ground where, since 2000, Sri Lanka averaged a staggering 453 in the first innings, New Zealand began well but then let slip. In the build-up to this Test they had talked about goals for the SSC, but after a tough first day those goals became something to talk about instead of doing.
If the morning session was shared by the two teams largely due to Chris Martin and Iain O'Brien, who really tightened their lines from Galle, then the final was highlighted by a dip in control. The only bright spot was Vettori crossing 300 Test wickets, the first left-arm spinner to do so, but it seemed that after that landmark New Zealand's intensity waned.
Vettori put up his poker face when addressing the day New Zealand had, saying it "wasn't a bad day". "Two more wickets in it would have made it a good day for us. It's a flat wicket, everyone knew that, and [Mahela] Jayawardene and [Thilan] Samaraweera gave us another lesson on how to bat on wickets like this. They showed an immense amount of patience and batted long sessions and in a lot of ways I hope our batsmen take a leaf out of their book."
With their figurative fortress here, and a real-life one in Galle, it is understandable why Sri Lanka have won 14 of 20 home series since the turn of the millennium, losing just four. Fast bowlers have not been known to wait in line for service at the SSC, where phrases such as "road" and "comatose" often pop up and tend to sum up the reputation the venue has. Bowling here was always going to be tough for the fast-medium contingent, especially one that first played a Test in Sri Lanka just last week, and the three seamers employed on day one found out the hard way. Between Galle and Colombo, Vettori demanded more from his bowlers. The results weren't entirely disappointing but the lack of diffusion told.
"Apart from the period after tea, we had about three quarters of an hour when we backed off and gave the momentum back to them," said Vettori. "Iain O'Brien bowled very well, Jacob Oram was pleasing; myself, being able to bowl and contain and try and take wickets. Not a bad effort but we'd have liked to put two more wickets into that."
Having had Sri Lanka at 115 for 3, New Zealand allowed Sri Lanka to progress - first dourly, then leisurely - to 262 without further loss. "We definitely would have liked to cashed in and we acknowledge that the batsmen to come aren't of the quality of the top five," said Vettori, "And we wanted to try and get into the middle order like in the first Test. But we had two quality batsmen at the top of their game."
Top of the game they were, with Jayawardene looking ominous on 79 from 210 deliveries at stumps. He took his time to settle the situation and then, with an obdurate display bound to rankle New Zealand overnight, he took control. "It looks very easy for him," said Vettori. "The good thing about him is that he doesn't take many risks. On a wicket like this quality batsmen know they have to make runs and you can almost sense from him that he wants to come out and score a hundred. In the two innings of substance he's played he hasn't taken risks and he's so determined to do well."
Knowing how to win in tight situations is an art, and the more often you are in that position, the more often you should be able to win. Sri Lanka pulled it off today. New Zealand knew what they wanted to do, but didn't quite know how to go about doing it.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo