First Test

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2006-07

Don Cameron

At Christchurch, December 7, 8, 9, 2006. New Zealand won by five wickets. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: L. P. C. Silva.

This match came hot on the heels of the exciting conclusion of the Second Ashes Test at Adelaide, but turned out to be a much more low-key affair. There was no grand opera here, no packed house; it was more like two patched-up and half-strength repertory troupes struggling to fill a provincial theatre, with most of the players forgetting their parts... and a handful of spectators haunting the gaunt Jade Stadium's 40,000 seats.

There was some sun, some rain, and even a hailstorm - but still the match would have ended with a whimper at tea on the third day had not New Zealand contrived to end a gritty second innings with an ungracious act that will be remembered long after the rest of this match is forgotten.

Hearts were beating a little faster while Sangakkara played the game's one great innings, giving Sri Lanka hope that New Zealand might have to chase around 150. Muralitharan had almost throttled New Zealand's first innings, and even such a modest target could have been a struggle. Then it happened. As Murali completed the easy single that brought up Sangakkara's century - out of just 170 - some of the nearby fielders moved towards the middle of the pitch to observe the courtesies. After touching down for the single, Murali also strolled back to add his good wishes. But Martin rifled in a long throw from the deep, keeper McCullum broke the wicket, and umpire Brian Jerling, already moving in from square leg (and apparently giving a small hand signal which the batsman did not see), gave Muralitharan out.

The New Zealanders happily accepted the run-out, and were faced with a manageable target of 119. Jayawardene admitted Muralitharan was technically out - even though he was obviously not attempting a run - but said New Zealand had broken the spirit of the game by claiming the dismissal. Fleming argued that the wicket had been taken legitimately; New Zealand's sole aim was to win the Test, and that might not have happened had the last pair added another 30 or 40. Martin Snedden, New Zealand Cricket's departing chief executive, made a strong defence of his team's actions. However, it would have been to cricket's greater good had Fleming withdrawn the appeal and allowed Murali to stay: the risk of losing was not great. It echoed McCullum's similar act in Bulawayo 16 months before, when he had rounded off an innings victory over Zimbabwe by running out Christopher Mpofu as he wandered off to congratulate Blessing Mahwire on a maiden fifty: the difference was that obviously had no effect on the result, whereas this incident might have.

Some locals argued that Murali's meander was merely the last of Sri Lanka's selfinflicted wounds, and that the first - Jayawardene's decision to bat first - was the fatal one. The pitch was greenish and not rock-hard, and New Zealand wanted to bowl first anyway, with their spearhead Bond straining at the leash. Jayawardene's decision was based on his desire to have Murali bowling last on a fifth-day pitch - but the match never threatened to last that long. Sri Lanka were shot out before tea for 154, with Bond and his fellow seamers doing all the damage. Martin, in his 32nd Test, took his 100th wicket (to go with a grand total of 48 runs) when he had Prasanna Jayawardene caught at slip. Murali inspired a slump in the middle of New Zealand's reply, but a solid innings from Fleming, followed by an inventive 63 from Vettori, gave New Zealand a handy lead.

Then came Sangakkara's one-man resistance. Jayasuriya was unluckily run out when Bond deflected a straight-drive from Tharanga into the stumps at the bowler's end, then Tharanga himself was superbly caught at slip by Fleming, who grabbed the rebound after palming the ball upwards. Chamara Silva, making his Test debut more than seven years after his first one-day international, bagged a pair as Sri Lanka lurched to 99 for eight - only 47 in front - but with passive support from Malinga (a 50-minute duck) and Murali (eight in 37 minutes), Sangakkara charged on to the most valiant of his 11 Test centuries.

New Zealand stumbled halfway in their pursuit, losing four wickets for ten runs - including Cumming, finally out after a charmed life which had seen him twice caught off no-balls, as well as a similar escape in the first innings - but Astle steadied the leaky ship. Sri Lanka's ill-humour was not improved by the sight of the "villain" McCullum swatting a six and two fours to complete a tainted victory.

Man of the Match: S. E. Bond.

© John Wisden & Co.