Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Live: Rain delays Black Caps’ final-day chase

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Rain early on day five at Hagley Oval. Photo / Photosport

All the cricket action from day five of the first test between the Black Caps and Sri Lanka.

Day four report:

New Zealand will need to complete their third-highest successful chase if they wish to win consecutive tests for the first time in a year.

On a mixed penultimate day of an equitable first test against Sri Lanka at Hagley Oval, the tourists set their hosts 285 for victory before increasing the degree of difficulty in that task.

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The Black Caps will resume tomorrow on 28-1, trailing by 257, with Devon Conway having fallen in the fifth over. That brought together two players the home side might have handpicked when contemplating such a momentous challenge.

At one end, unbeaten on 11, is Tom Latham, averaging 60 in his nine previous innings this summer. At the other, unbeaten on 7, is Kane Williamson, coming off a century against England featuring the type of graft required tomorrow.

Only twice in New Zealand’s test history have they chased more to win a match — 324 against Pakistan in 1994 and 317 against Bangladesh in 2008.

No 1 on that list was also achieved in Christchurch, though at Lancaster Park. In the brief history of Hagley Oval, the highest successful chase was Australia’s 201-3 in 2016, while the highest fourth-innings score was the Black Caps’ 256-8 in a 2018 draw against England.

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In short, it’s a sizeable ask. But this team need only cast their minds back a couple of weeks for memories of an unlikelier win, the one-run triumph over England their first test victory since topping South Africa last summer.

That win over the Proteas was the Black Caps’ second on the bounce, having previously beaten Bangladesh, following which they endured a seven-test run without success.

Considering that barren streak, ending this summer by defeating England and Sri Lanka would represent an impressive achievement, no matter what happened in next week’s second test.

That’s especially true when factoring in the absence today of Neil Wagner, the hero of the Basin Reserve unable to bowl — and ruled out of the second test — with a bulging disc in his back and torn hamstring.

That left Tim Southee one fewer bowling option when the tourists began day four on 83-3, leading by 65. But given the skipper and Matt Henry had combined to take nine wickets in the first innings, Southee was unlikely to have been too concerned.

That might have described his emotions, however, when Angelo Mathews started accumulating steady runs.

After Blair Tickner had removed nightwatchman Prabath Jayasuriya — making it four straight scalps for the Central Districts seamer — Mathews led a middle-order rearguard that helped Sri Lanka wrest back control following the hosts’ strong day three.

The 35-year-old kept the score ticking along steadily against an old ball on an increasingly benign surface -– exactly the conditions in which Wagner often thrives.

Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal put on 105 for the fifth wicket as Southee was forced to to ask Daryl Mitchell and Michael Bracewell for 20 rather unthreatening overs.

With the test almost escaping New Zealand’s grasp, Southee was undoubtedly relieved to get his on a new cherry, immediately generating swing and making the breakthrough in his second over.

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But even after sneaking one through Chandimal’s defences, Mathews shared another decent partnership with Dhananjaya de Silva (47no), before the senior man reached his 14th test ton.

Henry then nabbed the key wicket, nicking out Mathews for 115, and helped wrap up the tail as Sri Lanka lost their last five wickets for 42 runs.

That late-innings efficiency was exactly what the Black Caps required. Conway chipping Kasun Rajitha straight back to the bowler was less desirable.

If Latham, Williamson and the rest of the batsmen fail to complete the chase tomorrow, the hobbled Wagner will be available to bat. More final-day drama awaits.

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