Daryl Mitchell rallied the tail with a superb century and Matt Henry blasted 72 from 75 balls as New Zealand achieved an improbable first-innings lead over Sri Lanka Saturday on the third day of the first cricket Test.
Led by Mitchell and Henry with help from the inimitable Neil Wagner, New Zealand eked out a lead of 18. At stumps Sri Lanka was 83-3, a lead of 65 with Angelo Mathews 20 not out.
New Zealand began the day at 162-5, 193 runs behind Sri Lanka with Mitchell on 40 left to do his best with the tailenders.
There was no expectation at Hagley Park that New Zealand had any chance of doing more than paring back the deficit that existed after Sri Lanka’s exceptional first innings of 355.
Mitchell’s overnight partner Michael Bracewell fell at the end of a sedate first hour but captain Tim Southee gave an indication that tail was going to go down fighting when he struck 25 from 20 balls. Even when he was out, New Zealand 120 behind.
Mitchell continued to play the steadying hand with a half century in three hours and a century — his fifth and first against Sri Lanka — from 187 balls.
“It’s always nice to get a hundred for your country and to do it in a situation in which we needed it was cool,” Mitchell said. “It was nice to put a team score on the board and for the boys to bowl the way they did tonight was awesome.” Mitchell’s solidity gave license to other New Zealanders to hit out and Henry took full advantage. After a quiet beginning he went on the attack and struck 72 — his fifth half century — from 75 balls.
Henry blasted 10 fours and three sixes and after Mitchell was out for 102, Wagner joined in and stuck three more sixes. With each hefty blow the deficit fell: in the space of four balls at the end of the 102nd over and start of the 103rd, Henry and Wagner hit three sixes and a four. The deficit which had been 54 reduced with those shots to 32.
Another six from Wagner and New Zealand trailed by 20 Then in the 105th over, Henry struck 4, 4, 4, 6 and 4 from the bowling of Kasun Rajitha and New Zealand hit the front.
Henry was finally out, bowled by Asitha Fernando after having played a massive role for a New Zealand team which never seems to know when it is down.
Its extraordinary one-run victory over England after following on in its previous test was the ultimate demonstration of that fact. But here again, New Zealand seemed absolutely on the back foot with little chance of anything more than a substantial first-innings deficit.
Its motto might be the tail never fails. Once again the last five batsmen made up for the shortcomings of the top order which too often is brittle and inconsistent.
The value of the second half of the New Zealand order is obvious: Mitchell averages 55 in tests, wicketkeeper Tom Blundell 45, Michael Bracewell and Henry in the 20s, Tim Southee 16 with six half centuries, Wagner 14.
The four seamers New Zealand has played in the match have five centuries and 18 half centuries among them.
Sri Lanka lost three wickets before stumps: Oshada Fernando (28), Dimuth Karunaratne (17) and Kusal Mendis (14) while Blair Tickner took all three wickets and has 3-28. Wagner limped from the field before the end with an apparent ankle injury.