At P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo, April 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 2003. Drawn. Toss: New Zealand.
Test debuts: K. S. Lokuarachchi, R. A. P. Nissanka.
This otherwise dreary match will be remembered for the amazing tenacity of Stephen Fleming. In ferocious heat, he showed great stamina and unwavering concentration - and almost single-handedly earned his side a draw. Fleming was on the field for all but the first 44 minutes of the match; in total, he defied the Sri Lankan attack for 956 minutes, making an unbeaten 274 in the first innings and 69 not out in the second. It was the highest aggregate by a New Zealander in a Test, passing the 329 Martin Crowe made at Wellington in 1991, also against Sri Lanka. But the numbers did not tell the whole story. The first-innings 274 saved the game psychologically as well as statistically by calming his team-mates' fears that they would be torn apart by an attack boasting four spinners, including Muralitharan.
Those fears were never realised, partly because the pitch turned out to be a little too good, partly because more than 40 overs were lost to rain and bad light, and partly because Tillekeratne, Sri Lanka's new Test captain, was more concerned with avoiding defeat than pursuing victory. After New Zealand had declared at 515 for seven in their first innings, Sri Lanka reached 424 for six by the close of the fourth day. Tillekeratne could have piled on the pressure by declaring behind and letting his spinners loose on a still uncertain batting line-up. Instead, he chose to let Sri Lanka's innings drift aimlessly into the fifth day. As it turned out, Muralitharan created enough trouble on the last afternoon to leave spectators wondering what might have been.
One the first day, New Zealand's main focus was on not collapsing in a heap. They ground their way to 207 for two in 93 overs as Richardson and Fleming absorbed the pressure exerted by Sri Lanka. Both men relied on their front pad as much as their bat, but they stayed together until Richardson was bowled, just seven overs before the close, by Vaas's first delivery with the second new ball. Despite straining a hamstring and batting with a runner, Richardson made 85 and added 172 with Fleming.
New Zealand were noticeably more positive on the second morning. Fleming was helped by businesslike innings from Styris and Oram - and several dropped catches - and added 308 before declaring with Martin Crowe's New Zealand record 299 apparently at his mercy. He had batted 653 minutes for his 274, faced 476 balls, hit 28 fours and a six, and had long since left behind his own previous best Test score of 174.
But his decision to put the team ahead of any individual landmarks looked justified when Tuffey removed Atapattu with his fifth ball. And although Jayasuriya and Sangakkara compiled attractive fifties on the next day, New Zealand still had a chance of enforcing the follow-on after both fell in quick succession, Sangakkara to a wild slog. Those hopes receded in the face of obduracy from Jayawardene, back in the side after a terrible World Cup, and Tillekeratne, and then a dazzling 76 from Kaluwitharana, who in his first Test in more than two years, hit 14 fours in 90 balls, mainly by exploiting New Zealand's belief they could get him out cutting. This raised the possibility of a Sri Lankan declaration but Tillekeratne's approach suggested it was not in his mind in any way. In 53 overs on the fourth day he eked out 55 runs, and by the time he was bowled off the inside edge by Bond on the last morning he had batted for 456 minutes for 144.
But there was still no declaration. Sri Lanka's misjudgment in not declaring was thrown into sharp focus when New Zealand's middle order then failed to master the spin threat on a fifth-day pitch. But any hint of a crisis was averted by Fleming's continued diligence. Opening in place of Richardson (unable to bat until No. 7 after spending most of the Sri Lanka innings off the field), he batted for more than five hours and was, again, unbeaten. But it was not just a one-man effort, and New Zealand also gained satisfaction from their unexpected choice, Oram, whose often surprising bounce at medium-pace had put the Sri Lankans under consistent pressure.
Close of play: First day, New Zealand 207-2 (Fleming 112, Sinclair 4); Second day, Sri Lanka 4-1 (Jayasuriya 2, Vaas 2); Third day, Sri Lanka 267-4 (Jayawardene 58, Tillekeratne 71); Fourth day, Sri Lanka 424-6 (Tillekeratne 126, Dharmasena 19).