New Zealand face an enormous task as they try to save the first Test in Galle but their coach Andy Moles believes the pitch is still favourable for batting and his side has the wherewithal to combat Sri Lanka's impressive bowling attack. The hosts batted aggressively, scoring at well over four-an-over and Tillakaratne Dilshan led their charge, racing to an unbeaten 123. New Zealand finished the fourth day at 30 for 1 in pursuit of an imposing 413. Chasing down the target, however, was not the immediate focus in New Zealand's gameplan.
"We are just looking to save the Test match at this stage," Moles said. "If get to tea tomorrow we will be in a position to think about trying to win the game; obviously we are not going to turn down the opportunity. But realistically we've got to look to play the four wonderful bowlers Sri Lanka have got."
New Zealand's batting line-up tackled the Sri Lankan bowlers well for a good part of their innings on the third day but lost wickets at crucial times. Each of their top six batsmen got starts and Daniel Vettori resisted brilliantly down the order to help avoid the follow-on and reduce the deficit to 153.
"We showed a lot of application and discipline yesterday, especially the younger guys who are across here for the first time," Moles said. We need more of that tomorrow. It's a fantastic opportunity for us to save the Test match and go into the second Test with a lot of confidence especially with everybody feeling a lot better."
Moles took encouragement from the manner in which the wicket has played out, and though he felt the Sri Lankan bowlers would not be easy to negotiate, the batsmen still had plenty of assistance from the track, which has managed to hold together. "I am very confident that they can do it with application, discipline and character.
History says that these guys [Sri Lanka] are going to bowl very well on this wicket but yet it hasn't turned into a minefield. The covers coming on and off and the moisture that's been around have probably kept the wicket together as a surface. I believe that if we play well and show a lot of character then there is no reason why we can't bat out the day."
New Zealand, however, face a serious problem. Seven of their players have been hit by a stomach bug; Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder are the worst hit. The two returned to the team hotel at the start of the fourth day and the Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara allowed Reece Young, a substitute fielder, to keep wickets despite him not being a part of the squad for the first Test. The situation was so bad at one point that the bowling coach and the assistant coach were ready to go out and take the field, Moles said. He hoped a good night's rest would help them recover to fight it out on the fifth day.
"Of the 15 players who came down here only two players haven't gone down with the bug," Moles said. "It has been difficult obviously and in the field we have shown a lot of character under difficult circumstances. Obviously it is not the kind of performances what we expect but with the amount of discomfort the guys have got at the moment it is understandable but it's not an excuse. We got to get on with the Test match tomorrow and hopefully the other guys should come out of it during the night and they'll be fit enough to bat."
The toughest test for New Zealand, under such circumstances, was to deal with the difficult playing conditions with their physical health not being intact. "It's a bug that causes a bit of a temperature and a bit of a virus and it's going through very quickly," Moles said. You feel sorry for the players because not only are they trying to perform under difficult circumstances and conditions, some of the guys are in some kind of discomfort and in a little bit of pain. That is the difficult part. We are not worried whether the guys are bowling badly or fielding badly, it's the actual scene that's going out there.
"I've been really pleased with the character they've shown and under difficult circumstances they've gone out there and they've done their best although one or two have been in quite a lot of discomfort."