NZ Still On Top Despite Dimuth Karunaratne's 152

December 28, 2014

 A duck in the first innings. His team following on amid consistent movement for the seamers. The deficit humongous and the pressure applied made it seem larger. These were the conditions Dimuth Karunaratne beat to register his maiden Test ton.

The dream would have been to bat out the day, but Trent Boult matched Karunaratne's fitness and concentration to deliver the strike New Zealand desperately needed in his 26th over of the innings. The pace was up at 140 kph and the delivery would have left most swing bowlers envious - angling to leg, curling through the air to pitch middle and seaming further away to topple off stump. A fitting delivery to end the highest score by a Sri Lankan while following-on; the deficit was only 10 but the visitors had only five wickets remaining.

There are only two recognised batsmen left for Sri Lanka - Angelo Mathews batting on 53, and Prasanna Jayawardene - to push for a meaningful lead.

Karunaratne's patience and a steadfast knowledge of his off stump frustrated New Zealand's seamers and their slip cordon through the day. The odd ball fizzed past his outside edge, as was bound to happen considering the quality of bowling he was facing, but his ability to shrug that off and get back into his bubble was striking. He made 28 off 88 deliveries in the morning, 39 off 102 in the afternoon, and 36 off 64 in the evening to finish 152 off 363 and ensure Sri Lanka recovered from a poor start.

The ball was 35 overs old at the start of the third day. It wouldn't swing as readily anymore. Sri Lanka's opening partnership was nearing their Test record when following-on. You could almost imagine Southee and Boult having a smirk at each other and saying, "challenge accepted".

Kaushal Silva was nipped out with the sixth ball of the day - a scrambled-seam delivery from Southee finding the outside edge - and Kumar Sangakkara's contribution in the match was limited to 7, Boult showing his ability to work a batsman out. Sangakkara's previous single-figure aggregate in a Test was in December 2011.

Sangakkara did not want to repeat his first-innings dismissal, when he had nicked to slip. He waited for the straighter ball to get off the mark, but was beaten by two terrific deliveries in between. Boult realised the length had to be even fuller and closer to off stump. The drive came again, the edge was taken again, and Boult claimed bragging rights over a batsman who had made at least fifty in each of his last nine Tests.

Run-scoring became secondary - Sri Lanka made 47 in 30 overs in the first session - and the only thing that mattered for Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne was reaching lunch with their wickets intact.

Having reached his fifty, Karunaratne knew it was his responsibility to mitigate the early damage. He was happiest on the back foot, but with time at the crease he began leaning forward. He did not, however, let the bat stray too far from his body. Out came punches down the ground and flicks through square leg as Karunaratne performed the job of tiring the bowlers and giving Sri Lanka's batting some structure.

He added 87 runs for the third wicket in 45.3 overs with a determined Thirimanne, who was coming off a poor stretch of form and batting in Mahela Jayawardene's position. The second new ball broke their union, but Karunaratne remained solid and the captain Mathews made a counterattacking half-century to lead his team into another day.

"We had a bad session. But we learn a lot from that innings, now it's time to show what you learn. Never give up guys. Fight hard" Karunaratne had tweeted yesterday. Today he came out and played a knock that spanned over eight hours to ensure Sri Lanka would not go down without a fight. His dismissal and that of Niroshan Dickwella late in the day to Boult, however, left the game in New Zealand's control.

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