CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – Half centuries by Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne helped Sri Lanka reach 305-6 and take the upper hand yesterday on the first day of the first cricket test against New Zealand.
Mendis made 87 and Sri Lanka captain Karunaratne 50 in a critical partnership which helped tip the first day in Sri Lanka’s favour.
At stumps and after only 75 overs in the day, Dhananjaya De Silva was 39 not out and Kasun Rajitha was 16, his highest test score.
Sri Lanka was sent in after losing what seemed an important toss.
New Zealand captain Tim Southee said the pitch at Hagley Oval had a “green tinge” and he was happy to take the new ball as part of a Black Caps attack bolstered by a fourth seamer.
Sri Lanka lost an early wicket and had scored only 27 runs at the end of a watchful first hour.
Mendis went on the attack in the second hour and reached his 16th half century from 40 balls which had Sri Lanka 120-1 at lunch and was impressive in the conditions.
The 137-run partnership between Mendis and Karunaratne lifted Sri Lanka to 151-2 before both batsmen were out at that score as Southee and his new ball partner Matt Henry struck back for New Zealand.
The technique applied by Mendis and Karunaratne in the conditions was exemplary. Though the weather was overcast and warm when play began and the pitch was green, there was very little movement even when the ball was new.
Southee and Henry had to bowl straight and full to take advantage of any swing and the batsmen, by using their feet carefully and making their first step relatively straight, they were able to guard their stumps and tuck the bat inside the line if the ball moved late.
That in turn made the bowlers bowl straighter and the Sri Lanka batsmen were able to pick them off when they did. Mendis took a lot of his runs behind square.
Bounce wasn’t effective, it was too low and that made flat bat shots more feasible.
The ball beat the bat occasionally but the batting side got on top as New Zealand wasted its reviews on speculative appeals.
“It’s always a frustrating day when you beat the bat like that,” Henry said. “I think from our point of view we just have to be a bit better for longer.”
Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, slowly at first but with growing confidence, built a partnership which was worth 58 runs at tea when Sri Lanka was 210-3.
Chandimal especially liked to drive and one through cover was probably the best shot of the day. Rain briefly delayed the return of players from the tea break but passed quickly and the partnership was 82 when Chandimal was caught by Tom Latham from Southee. He was 39.
The wicket was Southee’s 362nd in tests, taking him past Daniel Vettori into second place on New Zealand’s all-time list of test wicket-takers behind Richard Hadlee with 431.
Southee also passed Vettori’s mark of 705 to become New Zealand’s leading wicket-taker across all three formats.
Mathews also reached an important milestone when, at 47, he passed 7,000 runs in tests, achieved at an average of 45.
He was out at that score, caught by Tom Latham at second slip off Henry and Niroshan Dickwell fall soon after for seven, lbw to spinner Michael Bracewell.
The use of Bracewell partly was a necessity caused by the ineffectiveness of New Zealand’s fourth and fifth seamers Neil Wagner and Daryl Mitchell.
Wagner was the hero of New Zealand’s one-run win over England in the second test at the Basin Reserve two weeks ago, claiming the last wicket of James Anderson.
But he took a pounding yesterday, conceding 68 runs from 10 overs.