New Zealand beat Sri Lanka by two wickets on the last ball of the first Test at Hagley Oval. (More Cricket News)
Kane Williamson and Neil Wagner stole a bye from the last ball of the first cricket Test Monday to beat Sri Lanka by two wickets and emphasize New Zealand's aptitude for extraordinary Test match victories.
Only two weeks after New Zealand beat England by a single run at the Basin Reserve, the Black Caps again played a part in one of the most incredible finishes in Test match history.
Rain seemed to have wrecked the final day of the match in Christchurch when it prevented play in the scheduled first two sessions. When it cleared the umpires announced a single extended session in which New Zealand needed 257 runs to win and Sri Lanka needed nine wickets.
A winning result seemed impossible though the session was extended to at least 52 overs and more than 3-1/2 hours. In what turned into a 50-overs match, then a 20-overs match, Williamson made an unbeaten 121 to guide New Zealand to a narrow victory.
A limpid rainbow hung over Hagley Park as the players came out in the late afternoon to play out the last chapter of an absorbing match. The Sri Lanka fielders were shielding their eyes against the setting sun as the last overs were bowled and darkness engulfed the ground just as the players left the field.
New Zealand needed 131 runs off the last 20 overs, then 101 off the last 15 with Williamson steering the innings.
Kane Williamson had support from Daryl Mitchell, who made 102 in the first innings and produced another crucial innings of 81 on Monday, accelerating New Zealand's scoring rate. When he was out New Zealand still needed 53 to win.
Asitha Fernando bowled superbly through more than the last hour, removing Mitchell with a magnificent yorker. He then dismissed Tom Blundell with 47 to win and Michael Bracewell with 19 required.
Finally eight runs were needed off the last over with Williamson in charge.
One run came from the first ball bowled by Asitha, one run from the second and then Matt Henry was run out and the drama increased.
Neil Wagner, the hero of New Zealand's win over England, had been supposed to be ruled out of the match and the next test with a bulging disc in his back and a hamstring strain. But he couldn't resist the drama of the moment, discharging himself from the spinal unit of a local hospital and jogging to the crease with five runs needed and three balls remaining.
Kane Williamson struck a boundary and there was one run needed off two balls. The next ball from Asitha was short, it passed over Williamson's head as he stood upright but no wide was called.
That left the equation as one ball remaining, one run needed.
Williamson played at but missed another short ball and ran through, arriving as the stumps were shattered by a Sri Lanka throw at the non-striker's end. The final and crucial decision was left to the video umpire. He considered the footage and decided Williamson had made his ground and New Zealand had won by two wickets with no time to spare.
New Zealand's winning run chase was it's third-largest in test cricket.
“When it came to that last run I just had to put my head down and go,” Wagner said. "Kane was going. I thought of going the previous ball but I knew Kane was the man to do the job.
“Exceptional from Kane and Daryll and all the guys. An extraordinary team performance. One of the characteristics of this team is that we keep fighting and try to stay in the contest.”
Monday was Wagner's 37th birthday.
Defeat cost Sri Lanka the chance of a place in the final of the World Test Championship, securing instead India's place against Australia in June.
“Unfortunately we were on the losing side but I think it was a pretty good game,” Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne said. “It's disappointing for us but if you take the positives out I think we've done really, really well and done a good job in this championship.”
The first Test had been absorbing and the complexion of the match changed at times hour by hour in Christchurch. It contained two centuries, numerous half centuries, a five-wicket haul to Tim Southee and it saw some of the chess-like tactical moves of good cricket.
New Zealand captain Tim Southee saw a green pitch on the first day and sent Sri Lanka in. By the end of the day after half centuries to Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne, Sri Lanka had 300 runs on the board and the upper hand.
Southee's five-for helped New Zealand end Sri Lanka's first innings at 355 in a solid start to the second day. But the home team then slumped to 151-5 and the prospects of a first innings lead looked faint.
Once again the lower order came to New Zealand's rescue. Mitchell made 102 and seamer Matt Henry made 72 from 75 balls as New Zealand achieved an improbable first innings lead.
Veteran Angelo Mathews made 115 before Sri Lanka was all out for 302 in its second innings, an overall lead of 284. That left the game in a fascinating balance and created the possibility of a magnificent finish on the final day.
Sri Lanka, 1st Innings 355 (Kusal Mendis 87, Dimuth Karunaratne 50, Angelo Mathews 47; Tim Southee 5-64, Matt Henry 4-80).
New Zealand, 1st Innings 373 (Daryl Mitchell 102, Matt Henry 72, Tom Latham 67; Asitha Fernando 4-85, Lahiru Kumara 3-76).
Sri Lanka, 2nd Innings 302 (Angelo Mathews 115, Dhanajaya de Silva 47no; Blair Tickner 4-100, Matt Henry 3-71).
New Zealand, 2nd Innings 285-8 (Kane Williamson 121 not out, Daryl Mitchell 81; Asitha Fernando 3-63).