At the end of the second day, Sri Lanka led New Zealand by 135 runs on the first innings and on the third day morning, New Zealand began their second innings at 22/0 and lost five wickets at 159. With only 5 second innings wickets in hand, they had only a slender 24 run-lead over Sri Lanka. With two full days’ play left, Sri Lanka looked like taking the match and leveling the series. But what transpired afterwards was beyond the wildest imagination of cricket analysts. Kane Williamson and BJ Watling batted all day and the day after next. Sri Lanka couldn’t take any more wickets after James Neesham’s fifth wicket on third day. Williamson scored a double century and Watling made 142. The two New-Zealanders didn’t get separated even after adding 365 runs for the sixth wicket. When the declaration came at 524/5, Sri Lanka were left to score 390 to win the match. They had a half a session remaining on fourth day and the entire fifth day. In one of test cricket history’s most amazing rear-guard action, New Zealand turned the tables on Sri Lanka to win the match by 193 runs and take the two-match series 2-0.
Despite the Sri Lankan batting slide on second day, the Islanders had everything going in their favor. When they began bowling on the third day morning, New Zealand were 22/0 in the second innings. The home side needed to first wipe out the 113-run deficit and do something to save the match. However, Sri Lanka was high on morale as Nuwan Pradeep removed the overnight batsman Hamish Rutherford in the 27th over. In the 29th over, Pradeep struck again to obtain an edge from Tom Latham to make it 78/2. After just one run was added, Sri Lanka made it 79/3, when Rangana Herath pitched one immaculate delivery on Ross Taylor’s off-stump. Taylor couldn’t read the line as the ball went through to castle his stumps. Panic gripped the New Zealand batsman even as skipper Brendon McCullum walked in to join Kane Williamson. The two batsmen carried the score to 122 but McCullum couldn’t continue. He fell as the fourth wicket in the 47th over, when a ball from Dhammika Prasad struck him above the knee-roll and umpire declared him out LBW. The review didn’t help as McCullum appeared plumb in front. Sri Lanka took another wicket in the 61st over, when Pradeep trapped James Neesham in front of his stumps. 159/5 was not going to help New Zealand and the Sri Lankan victory looked the most plausible result in the match with more than two days play remaining. It was here that BJ Watling joined Williamson.
Williamson and Watling played steadily without taking any undue risks. They had nearly 40 overs left on the third day and while the score moved on, all adventure was duly avoided except once, when Williamson was dropped at 60 by the fine-leg fielder off Prasad. When third day’s play ended, Williamson and Watling had already added 94 for the sixth wicket. On the fourth day morning, Watling might have remembered his 352-run stand with McCullum at this venue that denied India a certain victory once. The two New Zealand batsmen continued from where they left off the previous night. They first completed the 100-run partnership and then Williamson reached his ninth test century in the 115th over. The stand between them created panic in Sri Lanka camp. Angelo Mathews did everything he could but he failed to separate the pair. But even after 300 was crossed, the toil of the Sri Lankans did not meet with any success. Williamson and Watling did not play in hurry, avoided all off side deliveries and often curbed their instincts to even punish the loose balls. They went to lunch at 325/5.
The same story continued after lunch as the duo added another 120 until tea with Watling also reaching his fourth test-match century. Now the lead had ballooned to 310 runs. In the 161st over, Williamson reached his first ever double century in tests but its timing was crucial from the team’s point of view. The batsmen now resorted to some brisk scoring with a view to ensuring a healthy lead, when the declaration came. At 5.10 PM local time, McCullum declared at 524/5.
Sri Lanka had 17 overs left in the day during which they have to begin contending with a victory target of 390. They lost one wicket on the fourth day with 45 on board. On day five, New Zealand bowlers removed three more batsmen by the 41st over. Mark Craig, Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult created heavy problems for the Sri Lankans, whose only objective was to save the match somehow. They didn’t succeed as wickets kept falling at regular intervals. After the 10th wicket of Pradeep fell, New-Zealanders soaked themselves in champagne. It was a stellar performance from them, especially from Williamson and Watling, who dropped anchor and engineered a gallant turnaround.
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