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Test matches (2): New Zealand 1, Sri Lanka 1
One-day internationals (5): New Zealand 2, Sri Lanka 2
Twenty20 internationals (2): New Zealand 1, Sri Lanka 1
While the high-octane Ashes series barrelled on across the Tasman Sea, a rather more forgettable tour in New Zealand - Sri Lanka's third visit in as many seasons - had a tidy end, which at least made up for some untidy cricket. When the final one-day international was washed out, the two sides were level in all forms of the game - in Tests, one-dayers and even Twenty20 thrashes.
Actually, if these things were measured, Sri Lanka would have finished ahead on points. They should have taken the First Test after winning the toss, but Mahela Jayawardene decided to bat on a decidedly dodgy Christchurch pitch. The idea was to unleash Muttiah Muralitharan in the fourth innings on a wearing wicket, but that ignored the risk of batting first, and New Zealand won inside three days.
One of the tactics New Zealand used came in for much criticism: Sri Lanka's second innings ended when Muralitharan was callously run out after he unwisely scampered out to celebrate Kumar Sangakkara's rearguard century, bringing the curtain down on an otherwise forgettable batting display which left a target of only 119. New Zealand had previous form in this area: Brendon McCullum, the wicketkeeper this time too, did something similar to round off an innings victory over Zimbabwe in August 2005.
Unlike the Zimbabweans, though, Sri Lanka had the firepower to fight back. They were so annoyed at the Murali run-out - and the attempts of the New Zealand administration and captain Stephen Fleming to pass it off as a normal part of cricket - that they were sparking with anger before the Second Test at Wellington. This time Jayawardene made the right decision after winning the toss - to bat. After another Sangakkara century, Murali and Lasith Malinga knocked New Zealand over for 130. Chamara Silva, who had bagged a pair on debut in the First Test, looked like Aravinda de Silva reborn in the Second with 152 not out, and Sri Lanka had a gift-wrapped win on the fourth afternoon, only their second in 13 Tests in New Zealand.
The brief Twenty20 series ignited, after a rain-hit encounter at Wellington, with probably the highlight of the tour. Around 21,000 Aucklanders watched a cascade of wickets, and cheered on the New Zealanders as they squared the series on Boxing Day. Then the one-day series proper see-sawed, with Sanath Jayasuriya showing he was still a limited-overs lion at 37, before the tame washout at Hamilton left everything all square. But again it was Sri Lanka who were on the up before the rain: in the fourth match, at Eden Park, they shot New Zealand out for 73, their second-lowest one-day total on the way to their heaviest defeat by runs.
With such rapidly changing styles of cricket it was difficult to judge the Sri Lankans' true strength. Sangakkara and Silva scored the Test centuries, Upul Tharanga contributed some good opening hands, and while Jayasuriya had a modest Test run - 46 runs from four attempts - he can still play a murderous one-day innings. Jayawardene, the captain, had a very modest tour, but his returning predecessor Marvan Atapattu used his old-fashioned caution cleverly in the one-dayers.
As so often, Muralitharan was the outstanding bowler - 17 wickets in the two Tests, and nine in the shorter games - but an old bugbear resurfaced when Martin Crowe, the former New Zealand captain turned commentator, queried his bowling action once again. Crowe's outburst came as Murali was shredding the batting in the Second Test; there had been a quite deafening silence while New Zealand were dominating the First.
Malinga, he of the slinging action which turns yorkers or bouncers into tracer bullets, looked a much stronger and more dangerous bowler than when he was in New Zealand before. Provided his right shoulder and back can bear the strain of his peculiar action, his nose-or-toes assault will bring him more and more success when pitches help him.
It was less easy to judge the quality of the New Zealanders. Day in, day out, Sri Lanka looked a more convincing side, because of the erratic selections of the home coach John Bracewell. In the previous southern winter Graham Henry, the All-Black rugby coach, deliberately shuffled his players in a bid to discover the best combination for the four internationals in Europe late in 2006. It was a daring plan, and it worked. With about 15 one-dayers (and these two Tests against Sri Lanka) leading up to the 2007 World Cup, Bracewell decided to adopt the Henry rotation policy too. From the Champions Trophy to the end of the Sri Lankan tour, he used 24 different players. At the start of all that, Craig McMillan was so far in the background that he did not get a central contract, and sought outside work (without much success) - yet he slipped back into the one-day side against Sri Lanka. NZ Cricket should also be concerned at their team's lack of crowd appeal.
There were fewer than 1,000 on each of the three days of the Christchurch Test, and around 3,000 on three days of the Wellington one. The shortest match of the tour, the two hours or so of the second Twenty20 game at Eden Park, was the only occasion when the crowd exceeded 20,000.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Otago v Sri Lankans at Dunedin, Nov 30-Dec 3, 2006