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For Sri Lanka, triumph. For New Zealand, more agony. By winning the First Test at Napier by 241 runs, Sri Lanka gained their first overseas win in 32 attempts since entering Test cricket in 1981-82. By working comfortably to a draw in the Second Test at Dunedin, they completed their first series win outside Sri Lanka. As they grew in style and confidence, the tour because a landmark in their history and they left trailing clouds of glory.
In total contrast, for New Zealand this was the final act of a season that had degenerated into the script of a horror film. The Sri Lankan tour should have been a pleasant way to round off a celebratory centenary programme. Instead, after months of indiscipline, resignations, defeats and injuries, New Zealand cricket was in crisis even before this. The effect of the injuries was to force the selectors into hasty and ill-considered changes.
The Sri Lankans had been disconcerted to arrive at the Napier ground to find a green pitch prepared, so the gossip had it, for New Zealand's medium-fast bowlers, especially 22-year-old Kerry Walmsley, who had only three first-class games behind him. The New Zealanders rubbed their hands when Sri Lanka had to bat first and were out for 183. But from that point onward they were wringing their hands in despair. The pitch lent itself just as well to the left-arm seam of Chaminda Vaas, who took ten wickets in the match to set up a crushing victory. Even allegations from the New Zealand camp about the action of off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who claimed five in the second innings, could not obscure the brilliance of Vaas's bowling, sharp Sri Lankan catching, and the ability of their batsmen to fight their way out of trouble. Chamara Dunusinghe, Sri Lanka's new wicket-keeper, also emerged as a hero at Napier. His keeping was speculative, but he fought hard as a No. 7 batsman; his second-innings 91 played a major part in securing victory.
On a steadier pitch at Dunedin, Vaas shone again, with a maiden fifty and six more wickets. Despite a 74-run lead, New Zealand's prospects of forcing a win to draw the series disappeared as Asanka Gurusinha and Hashan Tillekeratne scored centuries. The home team were more cheerful when the one-day internationals began, taking the first two high-scoring games, but Sri Lanka finished their tour with a flourish by winning the third at Eden Park.
Although Roshan Mahanama missed the tour, Sri Lanka proved to have a solid batting line-up, despite the lack of any substantial help from the explosive Aravinda de Silva. As for the bowling, the arrival of Vaas, the steadiness of Pramodya Wickremasinghe and the perplexing spin of Muralitharan - plus the versatility of Sanath Jayasuriya and Ruwan Kalpage in the one-day game - gave Sri Lanka an effective all-round attack. Though their opponents were not in good form or humour, the Sri Lankans improved with every passing day; even in form, New Zealand would have had trouble avoiding defeat by what became known as Ranatunga's Raiders.
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