At Dunedin (University Oval), December 10-14, 2015. New Zealand won by 122 runs. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: M. D. U. S. Jayasundera.
It's a long way from Colombo to Dunedin, geographically and climatically. And, as Sri Lanka assembled for the opening Test, it must have felt like a circumnavigation of the globe for their youngsters. It was 18 years since their previous Test in the world's southernmost venue, across town at Carisbrook: back in March 1997, the New Zealand opener Bryan Young had hit 267 not out, and Sri Lanka crashed to a heavy defeat. This time, woollen hats, jackets and several sweaters were mandatory as the University Oval welcomed them with a polar blast. From there the match went largely to the same script.
Mathews smiled when he called correctly, but such delight was rare over the next five days. New Zealand's batsmen seized control, then their attack toiled hard on an unresponsive surface, before clinching victory on the final afternoon. As Mathews found out, a thick covering of grass didn't automatically mean a seamer's haven. The Dunedin wicket has always been slow and lifeless, needing grass cover to add some zing, but it remained sluggish, with worryingly variable bounce. Guptill's second innings dismissal to Herath - bowled by one that shot along the ground - was a concern for a venue whose Test credentials were under scrutiny.
New Zealand were in control from the first morning, once Guptill stood tall and starting driving some overpitched offerings. Little went right for the bowlers, who were short of a gallop; Nuwan Pradeep Fernando snared four wickets, but went for almost five an over. Mathews turned down the chance to review an lbw appeal when Chameera pinned Guptill on 78; replays showed he would have been out. Guptill ploughed on, making the most of his first Test appearance on home soil since March 2012. He reached his third Test century - the first for 41 innings - during a stand of 173 with Williamson, then watched McCullum conduct a typical late-afternoon assault of 75 from 57 balls. After just over six hours Guptill finally wafted Mathews to Chandimal, who was keeping wicket because Kusal Perera had been sent home. By the close New Zealand already had 409 on the board, their third-highest total on the first day of a Test.
They had chosen four pacemen, with Wagner recalled for his first Test in almost a year, alongside the inexperienced spinner Santner. And all of them had to put in the hard yards in the victory push, as Sri Lanka survived 212 overs in total. Opener Karunaratne, who had done well in New Zealand a year earlier, dug in for more than four hours, while Chandimal settled in for nearly five - but they overdid the caution, perhaps unsurprisingly as they lacked support. The first innings ended after lunch on the third day with Sri Lanka 137 behind, even though they had batted for 21 overs longer than New Zealand.
Watling, the reliable wicketkeeper, was the central figure in the hosts' slow march towards all 20 wickets. He would eventually catch nine of them, to equal the national record for dismissals already shared by him and McCullum, and become only the third keeper to take nine catches in a Test twice, after Mark Boucher and Brad Haddin. Before that, Latham extended the lead, with his third Test century, batting throughout the five-hour innings before the declaration left a target of 405 in around 140 overs. McCullum's brief innings occupied only six balls, but included two sixes - the second of which was his 100th in Tests, to equal Adam Gilchrist's record. "It's the only record of mine Kane Williamson won't break," he joked.
The weather was a more likely winner than Sri Lanka, especially when hailstones cascaded on to the outfield on the final day and threatened to whisk the covers away to the nearby athletics track. But, either side of that, the seamers worked their way through the batting, helped by an important strike from Santner, who removed top scorer Chandimal for 58. Southee bowled full and induced early edges, then Wagner charged in and tried the short-pitched approach. His lively old-ball spell ruffled the batsmen, notably Mathews, whose odd dismissal was the beginning of the end. Casually pushing the pad forward to let a full delivery pass down the leg side, Mathews was mortified to see it cannon into his stumps. Chandimal fell at the same score and, although Vithanage and Siriwardene put on 48 in eight overs, it was all done and dusted midway through the second session.
Man of the Match: M. J. Guptill.