At Colombo (PSS), November 25-29, 2012. New Zealand won by 167 runs. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: T. D. Astle.
New Zealand displayed great resolve to pull off a stunning victory and square this short series. It was their first in Sri Lanka since Stephen Fleming's side won by exactly the same margin in May 1998, and ended a run of five successive defeats. For Sri Lanka, who had expected nothing less than victory against unfancied opponents, it was an unwelcome jolt ahead of their tour of Australia. The team for that trip had to be chosen before this match, as the Australian High Commission in Colombo insisted it would take at least four weeks to obtain visas.
Taylor reserved his best for what he knew was the last match of his stint as New Zealand's captain. It was his determined innings, coupled with Williamson's six-and-ahalf- hour stay, which blunted the Sri Lankan attack in a stand of 262 after the early loss of Guptill and McCullum. It would have been 36 for three had Mathews not missed a hard, diving chance at third slip when Taylor had 14. The let-off proved costly: he and Williamson dug in to forge a record for any New Zealand wicket in Sri Lanka, beating the unbroken 246 of Jeff Crowe and Richard Hadlee for the sixth wicket at the Colombo Cricket Club in 1986-87.
Taylor, whose century was his first against Sri Lanka, reined in his usual attacking tendencies, hitting only 11 fours from 306 balls; Williamson, just 22, was equally restrained, with 12 from 305. Herath bowled his heart out to scalp six more victims, four of them leg-before as the batsmen hit across the line and, at 300 for six, Sri Lanka had a chance to limit the damage. But the tail helped Flynn add a further 112 to ensure an imposing total, and the innings did not end until after tea on the second day. Sri Lanka then lost three important wickets before the close, with the impressive Southee removing Dilshan and Sangakkara in three balls.
Paranavitana and Mathews put on 90 but, when three quick wickets went down to leave Sri Lanka 128 for six, it seemed they might have to follow on. Samaraweera dug in to avoid that indignity, despite batting with three stitches in his right hand after splitting the webbing between his fingers as he tried to catch Patel in the slips. He made a staunch 76, and put on 97 with Randiv, who batted spiritedly for three hours.
Still, the new-ball pair of Southee and Boult took nine wickets between them, and Sri Lanka conceded a lead of 168. New Zealand increased that to 362 on the fourth day, with Taylor once more leading the way: again a model of self-denial, he hit only two of the 95 balls he faced to the rope, but still managed 74. His declaration with nine wickets down left Sri Lanka 16 overs to survive on the fourth evening, and the match was all but decided when they made a mess of it. Paranavitana fell to the first ball of the innings, and Dilshan - who had been recalled after his back injury, even though many felt Karunaratne should have been given another chance - soon followed. When Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene also fell before the close, Sri Lanka were 46 for four and the game was as good as up.
Any chance they might have had of batting out the final day vanished when Samaraweera ran himself out in the tenth over. He set off for a non-existent single after playing the ball towards short cover, and was almost three-quarters of the way down the pitch before realising Mathews wasn't interested; Patel's return to van Wyk easily beat him back. Mathews fought on, grafting for five hours before he was last out for 84, edging Boult to second slip soon after tea.
It was appropriate that one of New Zealand's seamers enjoyed the last word: they had taken 17 wickets between them. Patel had one to add to his run-out, while the Canterbury legspinner Todd Astle managed one on his debut. "We got a lot of stick last week for our performance," admitted Taylor. "But we fought hard."
Man of the Match: L. R. P. L. Taylor. Man of the Series: H. M. R. K. B. Herath.
Close of play: first day, New Zealand 223-2 (Williamson 95, Taylor 119); second day, Sri Lanka 43-3 (Paranavitana 9, Mathews 20); third day, Sri Lanka 225-6 (Samaraweera 76, Randiv 34); fourth day, Sri Lanka 47-4 (Samaraweera 1, Mathews 1).