On a day in which a 100-run fourth-wicket stand formed the centre piece of New Zealand’s progress, one of the architects of that partnership suggested it was the mental capacity to deal with balls that beat the bat that helped the team recover from three quick wickets.
Three wickets had fallen in the space of four overs just before lunch. When Henry Nicholls joined Ross Taylor after the break, the innings was at risk of spiraling into collapse – a frequent phenomenon at Galle.
But Nicholls and Taylor resisted Sri Lanka’s best bowler of the day – offspinner Akila Dananjaya – to lift their side to a reasonable position. Nicholls made 42 off 78.
“We know on these surfaces in the subcontinent when you do get a wicket sometimes it can turn into two or three,” Nicholls said after rain had forced an early finish to the day. “When Ross and I went out after lunch it was a case of keeping it simple and expecting that the ball was going to turn and beat the bat sometimes. It’s just being comfortable with that. We did a nice job for a while there.
“Conditions were tough at times. The ball certainly spun a little earlier than we thought, but we expected it to be turning.”
Countering Akila’s offbreaks were especially difficult for Nicholls, a left-hander. Akila had dismissed left-handed openers Jeet Raval and Tom Latham in quick session in the first session, on his way to 5 for 57 from the day. He was the only Sri Lanka bowler to take wickets.
“With the ball turning away from left-handers he’s got a few options,” Nicholls said. “He’s a very good bowler as well. He deserved a five-wicket bag today. For me, trying to find a balance between defence and being comfortable with the ball turning the way it did, was important.
“The game ebbed and flowed a bit through that middle session. Ross and I were able to score between 3.5 to 4 an over for a while there. We expect it to be like that – ebbing and flowing. When the ball’s a bit harder and it’s turning a bit sharper, it will be tougher. But when you bring the seamers back, while they bowled well at times, you were also able to score a bit faster.”
Galle pitches are known to deteriorate quickly, on account of the strong sea-breeze that blows across the ground. Although 203 for 5 does not immediately appear a commanding score, New Zealand remain capable of getting themselves into a strong position on a famously bowler-friendly surface. Taylor ended the day at 86 not out off 131 balls.
“First-innings runs in this part of the world are massive. We’re expecting it will get harder to bat on. It’s nice that Ross is not out overnight and is batting so beautifully.”