Yes, the previous best chase at this venue was only worth 99, and sure, 268 seemed like an excellent total to defend, but this particular surface got slower, not harder to bat on. So, at least, said Kane Williamson after New Zealand’s six-wicket defeat.
His analysis was not without strong evidence. New Zealand’s own tailenders had appeared comfortable on the surface during long stints in the middle on days three and four. And although there was significant turn, the majority of spin deliveries that Sri Lanka’s top order faced in the fourth innings did not spit, as they often do on days four and five on Sri Lankan tracks. The target was ultimately achieved with relative ease, thanks largely to Dimuth Karunaratne’s 122 and Lahiru Thirimanne’s 64, the pair putting on 161 for the first wicket.
“We thought the wicket would deteriorate more than it did,” Williamson said. “It perhaps got slower. It wasn’t turning a huge amount out of the rough. It didn’t get more difficult to bat on. I think there was a little bit more bounce and the turn was a little bit quicker in the first innings. Though, saying that, it was a good batting surface as well. I thought our bowlers operated patiently for a long period of time. We probably even bowled better in the second innings, but without the edges going to hand, and those sorts of things, which is the nature of the game we play.
“Still, I think in a last-innings chase, a lot of credit goes to the way Sri Lanka batted. It was a fantastic hundred by Dimuth.”
New Zealand’s two specialist spinners only claimed a wicket apiece in the second innings, having combined for eight wickets in the first innings. Mitchell Santner – the left-arm spinning allrounder – went wicketless through the Test.
“I though the bowling was outstanding on day four,” Williamson said. “Perhaps we didn’t have a lot go our way, and maybe we let the odd chance slip. We knew that on that sort of surface, if you are able to get a breakthrough things can happen quickly, as we saw later on today when perhaps the game was already lost. It was a shame not to get early breakthroughs.”
Williamson himself did not manage a score of significance, falling for 0 in the first innings and 4 in the second, despite coming into the series with some form, as he almost always does. Both his dismissals in Galle were the result of attacking shots – the second-innings dismissal especially, where he came down the track at Lasith Embuldeniya and holed out.
“Personally I was probably looking to be too positive when it wasn’t really required. In hindsight, if you go back in time, that wouldn’t have been the option, because the wicket was pretty much just getting slower rather than deteriorating.”
New Zealand, though, will be hopeful that something can still be salvaged from this series. On their last tour of the island, in 2012, they had also lost the first Test in Galle, but levelled the series at the P Sara Oval in Colombo, with both Williamson and Ross Taylor hitting centuries there. The P Sara is the venue for the second Test this time around as well.
“That last series here was a long time ago, but it was a brilliant performance from us to equal that series against a very strong Sri Lankan side. We’re up against a strong Sri Lankan side again who know these conditions very well. They’re very clinical at playing the sort of cricket that’s required here. We can take some lessons from the way they played as well. It was fairly evenly poised for a long part of the match. But they were exceptional in their last innings.
“For us, I think there were good bits in the game, but perhaps we weren’t good enough for long enough.”