At last the mostly woeful Black Caps have won something.
You know, I was so tempted to leave it at just those few words. For my fellow cricket followers out there it probably says everything. But for those who have a more casual relationship with cricket I feel I ought to enlarge upon my measly offering. I write this a few minutes after the New Zealand cricket team won the second test match against Sri Lanka in Colombo. It has been a tough tour for the Kiwis. The early games were heavily influenced by the monsoonal rains. The only 20/20 was rained off after the Black Caps set a meagre total of 74 runs off 14 overs. Only 3 of the 5 one-day games were completed, and they were also affected by the inclement weather, leading to victories to Sri Lanka via the Duckworth-Lewis system.
The sun came out for the test matches. Unfortunately for the Kiwis their losing streak didn't end with the rain. The first test was all about Rangana Herath. He bowled magnificently, taking 11 wickets in the match. There weren't many highlights from New Zealand; McCullum and Flynn made 50's in the first innings and Southee and Patel bowled pretty well. In the end the Sri Lankans had an easy victory. Following another all too familiar ordinary Black Cap batting performance they were left a second innings target of just 93 runs to win the test. They got them without losing a wicket, wrapping the match up inside 3 days.
So it was fair to say I wasn't approaching the second and final test with optimism. The Sri Lankans had consistently had the wood on the Black Caps, out-batting and out-bowling us in every game. Losing McCullum and Guptill early in the first innings didn't add to my confidence. But then something special happened, and it happened in the guise of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson. These two put on a determined display of batting, with their partnership adding 262 runs before Williamson succumbed to the wily Herath. He and Taylor crafted innings of 135 and 142 runs respectively, and Flynn again chimed in with a nice 50. The batsmen had finally set the bowlers a respectable total of 412 to defend, and they went about the task with enthusiasm. Southee and Boult were particularly troublesome, taking 9 wickets between them. The Lankans were bowled out for 244, giving the Kiwis a first innings lead of 168 runs. Only Samaraweera showed any real resistance, notching up a good 76 runs, with unconverted starts by a number of other batsmen.
Our batting was more fragile in the second innings, but it was Taylor's match with a gritty 74 before he was run out by a poor Southee call. It was also nice to see a solid 35 run effort by Todd Astle on debut. Thanks to the first innings effort our total of 194/9 declared was enough to set Sri Lanka the target of 363 runs to win the match. With a day and a bit to achieve it this was likely to be a tall ask, but a draw was definitely on the cards. Our seamers won the day however, dismissing the hosts in the final session for 195 runs. Mathews was solid, but his 84 run innings lacked support. Overall a victory to the Black Caps by 167 runs squaring the test series.
I like one day and 20/20 games, and I always want the Black Caps to perform well, but there is something about a test victory that seems more special somehow, more deserving of praise. Perhaps it is because they don't happen that often, especially away from home. So well done to the Black Caps, who have come away from the series smarting a bit, but who must feel at least a little better having won the final game. They now head to South Africa where a bigger challenge awaits. The wickets are at least likely to be a little more similar to those here at home, and the weather will hopefully play less of an active role in the games to come. Here's hoping the confidence boost this test victory gives them will result in a few more wins against the Proteas.