Kane Williamson, Daryl Mitchell star in New Zealand's Christchurch heist
Asitha Fernando led a spirited Sri Lanka fight, but it all came down to a scrambled bye off the final ball under the floodlights
New Zealand 373 (Mitchell 102, Henry 72, Asitha 4-85) and 285 for 8 (Williamson 121*, Mitchell 81, Asitha 3-63) beat Sri Lanka 355 (Mendis 87, Karunaratne 50, Southee 5-64, Henry 4-80) and 302 (Mathews 115, Tickner 4-100) by two wickets
New Zealand were on the end of yet another thrilling Test match finish as they secured a second straight final-ball victory, this time pipping Sri Lanka by two wickets to win the first Test at Hagley Oval. Kane Williamson, unbeaten on 121, was the hero of the day, though it was his 142-run stand with Daryl Mitchell that broke open the chase, on a day that had started with a literal dampener with rain washing out some one-and-a-half sessions of play.
What that meant was that New Zealand were left needing to score the remaining 257 runs in 52 overs, while Sri Lanka had the same length of time to pick up the nine remaining New Zealand wickets and with it keep their hopes of qualifying for the World Test Championship final alive.
What proceeded over the next three and a half hour mega-session was a steady ramping of tension, ending up in a crescendo of chaos at the death.
But before we get into that, here's what the history books might not reveal when this match is recounted, in no particular order:
- Williamson making his ground by a foot to secure a win following a direct hit on the final ball of the day
- Neil Wagner, with a bulging disc in his back, one that had kept him from bowling for most of the second innings, haring to the danger end for the winning single - on his 37th birthday no less
- Niroshan Dickwella, who had dropped Williamson on 33, missing the stumps to dismiss Wagner, only for Asitha Fernando to gather and score a direct hit with Williamson marginally home
- This was the same Asitha whose three-wicket haul in the final hour almost singlehandedly dragged Sri Lanka back into the Test
- The entirety of India presumably celebrating more than the Kiwis at the ground, as the result means their team instead of Sri Lanka qualifies for the World Test Championship final
And those were just some the highlights from the final day.
It all began rather tamely enough though, with Williamson and Tom Latham playing cautiously, content to wait for the bad deliveries and knock around singles. In fact, it was Sri Lanka who would make the first bold play, bringing in the left-arm spin of Prabath Jayasuriya 10 overs into the day's play - a move that would pay off almost immediately, with Latham chopping on.
This brought the out-of-sorts Henry Nicholls to join a not exactly fluent Williamson. The pair though would somehow manage to keep things ticking over at a fair clip, Williamson in particularly growing in fluency as the partnership wore on. They would put on 40 off 50 deliveries, before Jayasuriya struck once more getting Nicholls to top edge a sweep to fine leg.
It was at this point the complexion of the game began to change, with Mitchell signalling his intent early, coming down the tracking and lofting Jayasuriya back over his head first ball.
Mitchell would continue in a similar manner, taking Jayasuriya for three more sixes over the course of his 86-ball 81. While he would also score a handful of fours, the hallmark of his partnership with Williamson was their running between the wickets. Having first forced Sri Lanka to spread the field by finding boundaries at consistent intervals, the pair would then work the fielders in the deep, running them ragged with constant ones and two - between them they would take 19 twos in total.
By the time Mitchell was dismissed, chopping on a wide yorker from Asitha, the chase had been whittled down to a very manageable 53 off 48. Much of this was also down to Williamson's timely acceleration. After taking 120 balls to reach his fifty, he took just a further 57 to reach his century.
Asitha would do his best to give Sri Lanka a lifeline, following up Mitchell's scalp with a searing yorker to take out Tom Blundell before having Michael Bracewell hole out in the deep. He was in action in the final over too, helping effect the run out of Matt Henry and almost doing the same to Williamson.
But with Williamson at the crease the chase was always in control, even with five needed off three you felt he had matters in hand, and when he pierced what looked an army of boundary riders in the covers, Sri Lanka too realised it was out of their hands. It was always Williamson's chase to lose.