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Andrew Fernando in Galle
November 17, 2012
Even Sri Lanka's weather seems to have taken umbrage at the board's removal of Tests from the 2013 schedule in favour of ODIs. Daily monsoon rains that had reduced the limited-overs leg of the tour to one rung above farce cleared abruptly for the first day of Test cricket, and barely a cloud gathered to object to a full day's play in a setting whose history and allure matches and enhances the wonder of the game it hosts.
The cricketers also endorsed Test cricket in their approach. Often attritional and rarely frenzied, neither side betrayed the tight schedule that had had them playing limited-overs cricket five days prior. Runs were made at a languid 2.56 per over for the day, and rarely for a Test involving New Zealand, almost no one was guilty of over-aggression. However, one team assumed Test-match temperament better than the other, and that sees them going into day two far better placed than the opposition.
Sri Lanka's attack is not one adorned with many bells and whistles, and to label it simple and workmanlike does not do it injustice, nor demean the men who comprise it. Rangana Herath has featured heavily in Sri Lanka's recent Test triumphs, sporadic though they may be, and he does not command anywhere near the intrigue Ajantha Mendis, the man he usurped to become successor to Muttiah Muralitharan, did. Herath has a doosra, which is not the best going around by any means, and he uses it rarely and only after careful calculation of the batsman's flaws, as he affirmed at the end of the day's play. Instead, patience and stickability are the staples of his art, often spiced with a soulful splash of fight.
Herath was played well by Brendon McCullum and Daniel Flynn, New Zealand's best batsmen of the day, particularly during their 90-run partnership, which McCullum later described as "efficient". Yet Herath never felt the need to change his game or intensify his attack. The visitors may have been already at a disadvantage at his introduction, but there was no effort to extend the collapse in 12 wicketless overs. His delivery to McCullum was simply a well-drifted length ball, made to look spectacular by a little extra bite from the pitch, and his patience outlasted Flynn's too, when the batsman nicked behind trying to cut Herath square, last over before the tea break. The rest of his breakthroughs followed a similar pattern.
"I didn't do anything out of the ordinary," Herath said of McCullum's dismissal at the end of the day. "Bit of turn and I was able to dismiss him. Although I got five wickets today, those were not wickets that I got trying for additional spin or whatever. I think it's a very good wicket still. This is a new game and a new wicket, and I just did what I thought would work on this strip."
Galle was once Muralitharan's fortress - or at least, one of them - until he retired having taken that unforgettable final wicket of his Test career off the last ball he bowled here. Herath knows that in Galle, the surface will add extra venom to some deliveries and he only needs to keep putting the ball in the right place, and with that knowledge he is quickly piling rock upon rock to make the venue a stronghold of his own with each Test. He now has four five-wicket hauls in his last four matches here, having taken 30 wickets at 16.33. "Actually in 1999 my debut was also in Galle'" Herath said. "I love this place. Most of the time I have played here I have done well. Last two or three years I have had a great time at this ground."
Herath's spinning partner Suraj Randiv was another study in patience throughout most of his 21 overs on day one. Against the left-hand batsmen, Randiv found a spot that gave him a little extra bounce, just on a length, and plugged away there for overs on end. He finished wicketless, and was unlucky to do so, but New Zealand were never allowed to spur the run rate, with Randiv and Herath operating in tandem.
"Mahela told us to focus on building pressure, rather than on taking wickets. I thought Suraj did it to a certain extent. After 85 overs they only managed 221 runs, and things like rotating the strike and attacking are important and because they couldn't do that, it gave us an advantage."
The seam bowlers also relied on the basics of swing, length and seam for their wickets, and both Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Kulasekara did their reputations as Test bowlers a world of good, not only in their opening burst, but also with restrained spells with the older ball. Tim Southee swung the ball prodigiously in his opening spell, and Sri Lana's batsmen now need to adopt the patience of their bowlers to see out what promises to be a difficult morning on day two, if they are to consolidate the advantage their attack ground out today.
"It's only day one of the Test Match, so we need to put pressure on their bowlers. If we can bat tomorrow and even the day after and get as much as possible, that should be our plan. The fourth day and the fifth day the ball is going to turn and we need to get lot of runs."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri LankaFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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