Sunday, February 25, 2024

Mitchell ton gives NZ first-innings lead over Sri Lanka

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Daryl Mitchell has rallied the tail with a superb century and Matt Henry blasted 72 off 75 balls as New Zealand achieved an improbable first-innings lead over Sri Lanka in the opening Test.

Led by Mitchell and Henry, and with help from the inimitable Neil Wagner (27), New Zealand eked out a lead of 18. 

At stumps Sri Lanka were 3-83 in their second innings, a lead of 65 with Angelo Mathews 20 not out.

New Zealand began the day at 5-162, 193 runs behind, with Mitchell on 40 left to do his best with the tailenders.

There was no expectation at Hagley Park that New Zealand had any chance of doing more than clawing back some of the deficit after Sri Lanka’s exceptional first innings of 355.

Mitchell’s overnight partner Michael Bracewell fell at the end of a sedate first hour but captain Tim Southee gave an indication the tail was ready to wag when he struck 25 from 20 balls, although New Zealand remained 120 behind when he fell to Kasun Rajitha.

Mitchell continued to play the steadying hand with a half-century in three hours and a ton – his fifth, and his first against Sri Lanka – from 187 balls.

“It’s always nice to get a hundred for your country and to do it in a situation in which we needed it was cool,” Mitchell said. 

“It was nice to put a team score on the board and for the boys to bowl the way they did tonight was awesome.”

Mitchell’s solidity allowed other New Zealanders to hit out and Henry took full advantage. After a quiet beginning he went on the attack and struck 72 from 75 balls.

No.9 Matt Henry smacked 72 from 75 // Getty

Henry blasted 10 fours and three sixes and after Mitchell was out for 102, Wagner joined in, belting three more sixes. 

With each hefty blow the gap reduced: in the space of four balls at the end of the 102nd over and start of the 103rd, Henry and Wagner hit three sixes and a four.

The deficit – which had been 54 – fell with those shots to 32.

In the 105th over, Henry struck 4, 4, 4, 6 and 4 from the bowling of Rajitha and New Zealand hit the front.

Henry was finally out, bowled by Asitha Fernando, after playing a massive role for a New Zealand team which never seems to know when it is beaten.

Their extraordinary one-run victory over England in their previous Test was the ultimate demonstration but here again, the Black Caps looked to be on the back foot with little chance of anything more than a substantial first-innings deficit.

Sri Lanka lost three wickets, all to Blair Tickner (3-28), before stumps: Oshada Fernando (28), Dimuth Karunaratne (17) and Kusal Mendis (14).

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