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BJ Watling
World Test Championship

Gritty Watling rescues Kiwis after Sri Lankan spinners shine

SL v NZ, 1st Test, day 3, report

Sri Lanka’s three-pronged spin attack dismantled New Zealand’s top order, before a fighting 63* by BJ Watling stretched their lead to 177 in the first Test.

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Getting assistance from a day three Galle surface, Sri Lankan spinners picked up the first three Kiwi wickets for just 25 runs. They, however, ran into an unbeaten rearguard effort from Watling, who notched up his 17th Test fifty and led New Zealand’s fightback, with the side ending the day on 195/7.

Earlier, Watling’s wicket-keeping counterpart from the other camp, Niroshan Dickwella, top-scored for Sri Lanka with a crucial 61 at No.7. He was well supported by Suranga Lakmal’s 40, his second-best Test score, as Sri Lanka edged past New Zealand’s first-innings score.

Beginning the day on 227/7, the duo extended their stand to 81, before Lakmal departed, dragging an attempted slog onto his stumps. Dickwella followed soon after, with the Lankans eventually ending on 267.

New Zealand’s bid to build on their lead started off on the wrong note, when they lost Jeet Raval in the eighth over, with the score on 8. They slid further when Kane Williamson, on 4, tried to loft Lasith Embuldeniya down the ground, only to be caught by a leaping Kusal Perera at mid-on.

Ross Taylor followed soon after, chasing a wide delivery that only caught a thick edge and nestled into the hands of the first slip, leaving the Kiwis on 25/3.

Left-arm spinner Embuldeniya, playing only his third Test, ended with four wickets on a spin-dominated day, perhaps taking a leaf out of the retired Rangana Herath, who picked up over a 102 wickets in 19 games on this ground.

Apart from Watling, only Tom Latham managed to go past 40, combining with Henry Nicholls (26) to repair some of the early damage and steady the innings. Their 56-run stand ended with Latham’s departure on 45. Keeper Dickwella spilled an edge of Nicholls’ bat, but only minutes later, Kusal Mendis gobbled up an edge at first slip, to send half the Kiwi side back, with the score reading 98.

BJ Watling then began his act of resistance, even as the spinners extracted turn off the rough, on a track in the process of deterioration. After a 35-ball 12, Santner was the next victim, as he tried to work a short ball to the leg side, only to see it balloon in the air and fall into the hands of deep mid-wicket.

Watling then found an ally in No.8 Tim Southee, forging a critical 54-run stand to steer New Zealand towards 200, even as the Sri Lankan spinners managed to find kick and turn off the surface. After Southee fell for 23, Will Sommerville (5) gave Watling company till the end, with early stumps enforced by bad light, six overs before the scheduled close.

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