New Zealand conjured up a remarkable victory for the second time in two weeks by chasing down a target of 285 runs on the final ball of the rain-shortened final day to beat Sri Lanka by two wickets in the first Test in Christchurch yesterday.
The dramatic win, which came on the back of the one-run victory over England after following on in Wellington, put the hosts 1-0 up in the two-match series and ended Sri Lanka’s hopes of playing in the World Test Championship (WTC) final.
Kane Williamson played the leading role by notching up his 27th Test century in a beautifully controlled innings of 121 not out after the first four and half hours of play at Hagley Oval had been washed out by rain.
The winning run came when the former captain and the injured Neil Wagner ran a bye, Williamson securing the victory by diving full length to get his bat down in the crease before a direct hit broke the stumps.
The Black Caps went into the final day on 28-1 needing 257 more runs for victory and after the rain finally cleared were allowed 52 overs in one extended session to achieve the task.
First-innings centurion Daryl Mitchell contributed 81 to a stand of 142 with Williamson for the fourth wicket that put victory within grasp but there were plenty of nervous moments before the win was finally secured with eight wickets down.
Sri Lanka were still chasing a win that would keep them on course for a spot in the WTC final and Prabath Jayasuriya put them on the front foot with two early wickets.
The left-arm spinner bowled Tom Latham for 25 and had Henry Nicholls caught in the deep for 20 but that only brought Williamson and Mitchell together in the middle.
Seamer Asitha Fernando (3-63) gave Sri Lanka renewed hope with yorkers to dismiss Mitchell and Tom Blundell (3) before having Michael Bracewell (10) caught at deep midwicket.
That set up the dramatic finish with New Zealand needing 15 runs from the last two overs, and local nerves intensified when skipper Tim Southee holed out in the deep and Matt Henry was run out.
Williamson kept his own nerve and clubbed a four off the fourth ball of the final over but Fernando’s last two deliveries were short and high, giving the batsmen no option but to go for an undignified scramble to secure victory.
Sri Lanka would have qualified for the WTC final if they had swept New Zealand in the two-match series.
The second Test between New Zealand and Sri Lanka starts at Wellington’s Basin Reserve on Friday.
Decision on sexual assault case against Danushka Gunathilaka next Thursday (28)
The hearing of the sexual assault case against Sri Lankan cricketer Danushka Gunathilake before the New South Wales District Court concluded today (21) and Judge Sarah Huggett will hand down her decision next Thursday (28).
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Selectors make ‘U’ turn after requesting Shanaka to step down
by Rex Clementine
The national selection panel that met yesterday made a complete ‘U’ turn having earlier requested captain Dasun Shanaka to step down in the lead up to next month’s ICC Cricket World Cup to be played in India. After Sri Lanka’s horrendous show in the Asia Cup final, where the team was bowled out for 50 runs, their lowest total at home, someone had to be scapegoated and Dasun Shanaka fitted the selectors’ bill.
The captain had been informed to step down so that a new captain could be appointed and accordingly Kusal Mendis was tipped to take over. Team management had endorsed Mendis highlighting him as the player who contributed most during team meetings. He was anyway deputy to Dasun in ODIs.
Although Dasun had expressed his willingness to step aside so that the selectors could make the change, the national selection panel decided to retain Dasun following a meeting yesterday.
While a section of the public had wanted the captain gone due to an extended run of poor form with the bat, some others had argued that axing the captain on the verge of an event like the World Cup wasn’t the most sensible move.
Had Dasun stepped down, he was in fear of not finding a place in the team as well as the selectors had wanted the new captain to make the call of having or not having the misfiring ex-captain in the team.
Despite the debacle in the final, Sri Lanka had done well to progress to the finals of the Asia Cup having beaten Afghanistan and Pakistan and Bangladesh twice. There were fears of the team not progressing beyond the first round after the bowling attack was completely depleted with injuries.
Although Dasun has been now retained as the captain, he will be under tremendous pressure to deliver following a string of low scores. Having said that, he was Sri Lanka’s best batter when the national cricket team toured India earlier this month.
Sri Lanka will leave for India next week and will be based in Guwahati where they will play two warm-up games against Asian rivals Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Sri Lanka’s first game of the World Cup is against South Africa on the 7th of October in Delhi.
Arachchige to lead second-string Sri Lanka side at the Asian games
Sri Lanka have announced a young squad for the 2023 Asian Games – essentially a Sri Lanka A side – with Sahan Arachchige set to lead the 15-member squad.
Among those with international caps, Ashen Bandara tops the list with 11 white-ball games under his belt. Nuwanidu Fernando and Nuwan Thushara have played four games each, while Arachchige has played two ODIs.
A majority of the team have however appeared in the Lanka Premier League (LPL), so fans may not be completely unfamiliar with some of these names, but this will be a good opportunity to observe them over a more consistent period.
Most of the excitement will arguably surround the batters, with the likes of Lasith Croospulle, Shevon Daniel, Fernando and Arachchige having popped up on the radar during the most recent LPL season.
Croospulle was part of ESPNcricinfo’s LPL 2023 team of the tournament for his 232 runs at an average 33.14, while Daniel too had some exciting cameos opening the innings. At just 19, he also has a first-class double ton to his name.
Fernando meanwhile has the distinction of having played one of the most impactful innings in last year’s LPL, when he scored a 42-ball 63 on a surface all other batters had struggled on. This year as well he compiled an unbeaten 39-ball 56 against Dambulla Aura but wasn’t able to take his side over teh line. As for Arachchige, despite having a subdued LPL, he has impressed in recent games for the Sri Lanka A side, notably notching a pair of centuries against England Lions earlier this year.
In Bandara, Sri Lanka have one of the best fielders in the tournament, while his six ODIs for the national side have already brought about two fifties – his relative experience will hold them in good stead. Rounding out the batting will be wicketkeeper Lahiru Udara, lower-middle order batter Ahan Wickramasinghe and allrounders Lahiru Samarakoon, Nimesh Vimukthi, Ranitha Liyanarachchi, Sachitha Jayathilaka and Ravindu Fernando.
On the fast bowling front, a lot will depend on Thushara. Dubbed podi (little) Malinga due to his slingy action, Thushara has been consistently among the better performers in recent LPL seasons. He makes up for his lack of searing pace with good control and variety. Thushara will be supported by 26-year-old quick Isitha Wijesundara, and allrounders Samarakoon and Liyanarachchi.
In the spin department, Sri Lanka boasts a fair degree of variety. Legspinner Vijayakanth Viyaskanth will the lead the way, having broken into the starting XI of Jaffna Kings – and played a key role in their 2022 championship. Nimesh Vimukthi will share the burden with his slow left-arm orthodox, while Ravindu and Arachchige provide offbreak options. Jayathilaka meanwhile is capable of zippy leg breaks pushed quickly through the air.
Sri Lanka have a direct entry into the Asian Games quarter-finals and play their first game on October 4. All matches will be in the T20 format.
Lasith Croospulle, Shevon Daniel, Ashen Bandara, Sahan Arachchige (capt), Ahan Wickramasinghe, Lahiru Udara (wk), Ravindu Fernando, Ranitha Liyanarachchi, Nuwanidu Fernando, Sachitha Jayatilaka, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth, Nimesh Vimukthi, Lahiru Samarakoon, Nuwan Thushara, Isitha Wijesundera
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