First Test

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2004-05

Don Cameron

At Napier, April 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2005. Drawn. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: K. M. D. N. Kulasekara.

As John Dyson, Sri Lanka's Australian coach, watched the first day's play in earlyautumn sunshine, he described the McLean Park pitch as a belter. Sadly for him, it was the New Zealand batsmen doing the belting after Atapattu lost the toss. Halfway through the second day, with New Zealand still accumulating, Dyson said the Napier wicket, being used because of concerns about the surface at Hamilton, the original venue, offered bowlers about as much assistance as a strip of motorway.

Still, his batsmen enjoyed their turn on the motorway when at last it came, and they kept the deficit down to just 63. With the third innings not starting until the fourth afternoon, there was no escaping a draw, though there was time for Malinga to swing the ball both ways, yank out some New Zealand batsmen and allow Atapattu - just fleetingly - to contemplate victory.

Vaas removed Cumming an hour or so into the first morning, allowing the Marshall twins, Hamish and James, to bat in perfect conditions and put on a tidy 107 runs; in his second Test, James reached his first half-century. Fleming then continued his run of low scores - just one fifty in eight Test innings - before Hamish Marshall and Astle took charge. Marshall, unbeaten on 133 as New Zealand reached 267 for three at stumps, seemed on course to convert his third first-class hundred into a maiden double when, on 160, he tamely chipped a simple catch to Vaas at mid-on. Vincent went almost immediately, but Astle, who had built a hundred stand with Marshall, shared another with McCullum as the Sri Lankan attack tired.

Astle hit a cultured 114, his first Test century in 18 months and his tenth in all, McCullum fell a single short of his second, and Franklin strode elegantly to his first international fifty as New Zealand reached 561. Almost unnoticed in the one-sided contest, Malinga bowled 34 overs to take four for 130, but on such an easy batting strip his low-slung action hardly appeared to concern the batsmen.

Nor did Atapattu and Jayasuriya seem much troubled that evening by the innocuous fast-medium of Martin and Franklin. There was a hiccough on the third morning when wickets fell either side of 100, encouraging the New Zealand bowlers to attack hard. But Atapattu and Jayawardene, captain and vice-captain, recovered brilliantly, taking the score to 285 before Atapattu edged Astle's gentle medium-pace and Fleming took a smart catch at slip. By stumps on the third day, Sri Lanka were comfortably placed at 351 for three. They had taken that to 407, and might have been eyeing a first-innings lead, when Jayawardene fell for a dashing 141. However, the middle and lower-order batsmen conspired to lose their last six wickets for just 46, and it was the New Zealanders who led by 63 when Sri Lanka were all out just before tea on the fourth day. The draw seemed a certainty.

Malinga had other ideas. In fading light, he plucked out Cumming and Hamish Marshall before the fourth-day close - and kept going next morning. He gained little help from the pitch, but by bowling yorkers and low full tosses with all the speed he could muster, plus some wicked reverse swing, he caused real problems. At lunch, New Zealand were 148 for seven, a precarious 211 ahead, before Vincent dug in grimly and guaranteed the draw. Bad light ended the Sri Lankan second innings after just nine balls. Bizarrely, however, the secret of Malinga's success - or so the New Zealanders claimed - lay in the umpires' trousers. "We can't see him when it's a bit overcast and late in the evening," complained Fleming on the last day. "Last night Hamish Marshall, who's in great form, just couldn't see the ball. We asked the umpires to change the colour of their trousers. There's a period there when it gets lost in their trousers." The umpires drew the line at changing their clothing because of Malinga's low, round-arm action and delivery from near the stumps, but on the first day they did agree to take off their dark ties and, on the last, umpire Bucknor tied a sweater round his waist as a sort of personal sightscreen.

Man of the Match: S. L. Malinga.

© John Wisden & Co.