By Shehan Daniel reporting from Galle
It was a perfect return to Test cricket for Akila Dananjaya who accounted for all five New Zealand wickets that fell on a rain-shortened first day of the first Test in Galle yesterday, though Ross Taylor’s fighting half century ensured the Kiwis remained on course for a competitive score.
Dananjaya was banned from bowling in international cricket last December after he was found to have an illegal bowling action, but in his first Test since being cleared earlier this year, the right-arm spinner picked up his fourth five-wicket haul.
New Zealand were 203 for five in their first innings when play was halted at 3.42 p.m. before being called off about 30 minutes later, at the expense of 22 unbowled overs.
Taylor, the one batsman who could defy Dananjaya, was unbeaten on 86 - already the highest score by a New Zealander in Galle.
Taylor reached his half century in 86 balls and put on a 100-run partnership with Henry Nicholls for the fourth-wicket.
Dananjaya showed excellent control and his use of variations in lines and lengths were much better than that of his fellow spinners Lasith Embuldeniya and Dhananjaya de Silva who couldn’t find the same sort of assistance on a slow surface, although they were tasked with playing more of a supportive role.
Introduced from the Fort End in the eighth over, it wasn’t until Dananjaya switched to the City End four overs later that he started extracting turn and beating the batsman.
He beat the bats of both openers, Jeet Ravel and Tom Latham, in his fifth over, and his good control was rewarded, handsomely too, shortly before the lunch break.
Into his 10th over, Dananjaya found sharp turn that had Latham second guessing a cut through square, the resulting edge being snapped up by wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella, and then removed the dangerous New Zealand Captain Kane Williamson four balls later.
Williamson was through his leg-glance early and lobbed a catch straight to Dimuth Karunaratne at short mid-wicket, a field placing seemingly targeting Williamson.
Those two wickets had undone the good work of New Zealand’s openers, who had shown great concentration and patience in seeing out Sri Lanka’s disciplined but largely threat-less new-ball attack, even if it meant just 21 runs in those first 14 overs of play.
If the first two wickets were more down to batting error than bowling brilliance, Ravel’s wicket was one for Dananjaya to savour, as he drew the batsman forward and found the outside edge with a googly.
Dananjaya bowled five overs after lunch at which point his first spell ended, and it was between then and the start of his second spell that the New Zealanders looked most at ease.
That 17-over phase yielded 74 runs towards the Taylor-Nicholls partnership, as both batsmen benefited from some toothless bowling and the drying up of the pitch.
So comfortable were those two batsmen that it was against the run of play when Dananjaya, in the second ball of his second spell, had Nicholls trapped in front for 42.
Nicholls reviewed, but having missed with his sweep right in front of the stumps, had little going his way to overturn the decision, which was upheld and resulted in New Zealand losing that review.
Dananjaya struck in his next over when he had B. J. Watling also trapped in front for one, with the tea break also being called.
The fear of showers during the tea break delayed the start of the day’s final session but when it did get underway, New Zealand saw out the seven overs that followed, before the premature end of play.