Ross Taylor closed in on his 19th Test hundred, but it was spinner Akila Dananjaya who took the honours on a rain-marred opening day of the first Test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Galle.
Dananjaya snared his fourth Test five-for to rip out the heart of the New Zealand batting. At stumps, the visitors were 203/5, with Taylor fighting on, unbeaten on 86.
Given Galle’s history of favouring spinners, Sri Lanka attacked New Zealand with a trio of spinners and Dananjaya was the first of them into the attack, introduced as early as in the eighth over.
He did find big turn and beat the edge early, especially after a change of ends two overs into his first spell, but New Zealand, one way or the other, survived him early on, keeping him at bay for his first nine overs.
By then, the first-wicket stand between Tom Latham and Jeet Raval had gone well past fifty. Both batsmen had been slow, as New Zealand went at just over two an over, but that was not important at this stage.
Then, fifteen minutes before lunch, their resistance was broken when Dananjaya shaved the edge of an indecisive Latham, who was caught behind for 30. Three balls later, Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, was gone for a duck after tamely chipping one that held up in the pitch, straight into the hands of short midwicket.
When Raval fell on the last ball before lunch, edging a dipping googly to slip, New Zealand had lost their top three and were in the middle of a full-blown collapse.
As was the case in the morning session, New Zealand began the post-lunch session on a steady note, as Taylor and Henry Nicholls settled into a nice rhythm during a 100-run fourth-wicket stand.
With Dananjaya proving to be unplayable, both batsmen took their chances against the more inexperienced Lasith Embuldeniya, playing his third Test, stepping down, chipping over the in-field and slugging him away.
The fifty of their partnership came up in the 46th over, and in the next, Sri Lanka lost an opportunity to end the burgeoning association. After Nicholls tapped Dhananjaya de Silva to the right of extra cover, Taylor hesitated to respond to his partner’s call. He was still miles out of the crease at the striker’s end, but was helped in no small measure by a wayward throw from fielding captain Dimuth Karunratne. Taylor was on 37 then.
Both batsmen kept themselves busy thereafter, collecting the ones and twos. A tuck off the hips to deep square leg off Lahiru Kumara gave Taylor his 31st Test fifty. A four from Nicholls off Dananjaya brought up the 100 of the partnership, but the bowler came roaring back the very next ball, when Nicholls got down to sweep but missed and was pinned in front of middle.
In his next over, Dananjaya trapped BJ Watling lbw with one that spun into his pads and refused to get up. As had been the case in the morning, New Zealand once again lost a wicket on the last ball of the session.
The resumption was delayed as covers wrapped up the surface in anticipation of rain. After about a 20-minute hold-up, the players were back on the field. Though the ground was wrapped in sunshine, groundstaff lurked by the boundary, expecting the elements to intervene.
Taylor and Santner saw off the few overs that did take place, before the covers came back on, once again as a precautionary measure, even as darkness engulfed Galle. Ten minutes later, it was pelting down, and that was it.
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