First Test


Toss: New Zealand. Test debuts: K. P. Walmsley; C. I. Dunusinghe.

After their initial batting torment, Sri Lanka steadily took command and finished off New Zealand before lunch on the fifth day - their first Test win overseas. The triumph gained lustre from the fact that the pitch was tailored for the New Zealand medium-fast bowlers, Morrison, Nash and the 6ft 8in 22-year-old Kerry Walmsley. Napier pitches are usually hard and true, offering bowlers little help. This one had a solid covering of grass and 13 wickets fell on the first day.

After sending Sri Lanka in, New Zealand scented a morale-building win when Walmsley, despite being erratic, and Nash claimed three wickets for 40. Sri Lanka struggled to 88 for six, but were sustained for a while by a 49-run stand between Arjuna Ranatunga and Vaas. Ranatunga became the first Sri Lankan to score 3,000 Test runs when 39.

Their recovery to 183 suggested the pitch was losing its sting. But Wickremasinghe and Vaas gained sharp movement off the pitch and through the air as they captured three wickets for six in 20 balls. New Zealand were lucky not to be five down by stumps, as Fleming was dropped and Rutherford might have been lbw. On a misty second morning, they offered only brief resistance to more sharp medium-fast bowling and improved catching. Rutherford toiled for three hours, but Sri Lanka brushed New Zealand aside for 109 inside 43 overs, with left-armer Vaas taking five for 47.

Sri Lanka seemed to have wasted a 74-run lead at 22 for three. Samaraweera was given run out at 14 - although he had gained his ground and then jumped in the air to avoid a throw, an action allowed under Law 38.1- and, when Larsen had Gurusinha and Sanjeeva Ranatunga lbw, the match was swinging back to New Zealand. Tillekeratne and De Silva slowly reasserted their command until bad light stopped play at 5.15 p.m. and, after a wet third morning, extended their partnership to 99. Tillekeratne's invaluable five-hour 74 finally ended with Sri Lanka 205 for six, growing more confident with every minute as the pitch eased. Vaas put together 36, while the debutant keeper Dunusinghe took command. The tailenders struggled to stay with him as he approached a century, but he was ninth out, for 91, after 323 minutes. In the closing stages he had a runner, though he was later able to take four catches.

Needing 427 to win in five sessions, New Zealand were baffled by Muralitharan's bounce and sharp off-spin. Though Murray and Greatbatch counter-attacked to take the score past 100 with only one wicket down, three quick wickets put New Zealand in trouble again. Rutherford and Thomson survived, not at all confidently, until stumps, when John F. Reid, the stand-in New Zealand coach, tastelessly claimed Muralitharan's action was suspect. Next morning, at 141, Rutherford was caught behind off Vaas and Muralitharan ended Thomson's struggle. Vaas ripped out the tail with merciful speed, for match figures of 45.3-13-90-10. No Sri Lankan had taken ten in a Test before.

Man of the Match: W. P. U. J. C. Vaas.

Close of play: First day, New Zealand 33-3 (S. P. Fleming 20*, K. R. Rutherford 8*); Second day, Sri Lanka 92-3 (P. A. De Silva 52*, H. P. Tillekeratne 16*); Third day, Sri Lanka 253-6 (C. I. Dunusinghe 50*, W. P. U. J. C. Vaas 12*); Fourth day, New Zealand 139-4 (K. R. Rutherford 20*, S. A. Thomson 2*).

© John Wisden & Co