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Peerless Williamson grinds Sri Lanka down

ESPNCricInfo
16 Dec 2018, 13:42 GMT+10

New Zealand 175 for 1 (Williamson 71*, Latham 57*) trail Sri Lanka 282 (Mathews 83, Dickwella 80*, Southee 6-68) by 223 runs

A peerless half-century from Kane Williamson and an industrious one from Tom Latham helped New Zealand dominate on a batting afternoon at the Basin Reserve. The pair, who got together at the start of the second session, rattled 116 at over four an over, to narrow down the deficit to 107 at tea on the second day, with New Zealand on 175 for 1.

It seemed as if Williamson was on pause-play mode, continuing from where he left off in Abu Dhabi 10 days ago, when he made a remarkable Test century against Yasir Shah and company on a crumbly surface. In comparison, Sri Lanka's attack was much milder, save Lahiru Kumara, who troubled them with his pace and the occasional short ball that reared up.

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Williamson profited immensely from punchy strokes on the up, his first three scoring shots coming off boundaries as he quickly matched Latham, who had taken 74 balls to make just three runs more. The first of those boundaries was off a genuine outside edge that raced past second slip. It would be the only streaky boundary from Williamson's bat. The second and third were trademark backfoot punches that pierced the off-side ring. At the end of the two hours, it was amply clear which side felt the heat, as Williamson raced past his 26th Test fifty with the promise of much more.

All along, Latham kept soldiering along at a steady pace without actually being noticed at the other end. That he managed to stave off Suranga Lakmal's late inswing from around the stumps was largely due to his tight technique and the shelving of loose drives. He survived early in the innings too, because of poor field placement. Jabbing at a late inswinger from Lakmal, the ball popped off a thick inside edge to where a short leg would've been.

After a slightly patchy series in the UAE against Pakistan, he couldn't have asked for better conditions to ease himself in, especially with the surface being at its best for batting and the new ball having lost its shine. Sri Lanka's frustration increased when they lost a review in the third over after lunch, the 26th of the innings, when they referred an lbw appeal against Latham off Lakmal. The ball would've smashed into the stumps, but for the line - it pitched outside leg. From there on, there was hardly any noise or intensity created by the bowlers, who largely went through the motions.

Mathews wasn't given a bowl in the session at all, not even at times when it seemed as if Sri Lanka could do with his relentless plugging away around the off-stump. With more pace on the ball courtesy Kumara and the erratic Kasun Rajitha, Williamson treated the Sunday crowd to an array of dazzling backfoot punches and drives on the up. At different stages in the session, it already appeared as if Sri Lanka were playing catch up despite having a decent score to bowl at.

This stand was built upon a solid foundation laid by the openers - Jeet Raval and Latham putting on 59, nine more than their highest stand in six innings on the UAE tour against Pakistan. Raval, who doesn't yet have a century in 14 Tests, may have dreamt of a first when he got off to a fine start, making 43 stroke-filled runs before falling to a short ball in the last over before lunch.

Kumara's short ball didn't appear to get to him and he was through with the pull that he toe-ended to Niroshan Dickwella behind the stumps. Early in the day, Dickwella played a trademark scoop to begin proceedings, but Sri Lanka added just seven to their overnight 275 for 9 before last man Kumara was dismissed. He was superbly caught at leg slip by Colin de Grandhomme, off a thick inside edge that flew in-between the batsman's legs.

Dickwella was stranded on 80, three short of his highest Test score, as Tim Southee finished with 6 for 68 - his eighth five-for in Tests. This was also his maiden five-for at the Basin Reserve.

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