New Zealand's dream day proves a nightmare for Sri Lanka
These are the dream days.
The previous morning, the home side had been asked to bat on the kind of lurid green pitch New Zealand has specialised in over the last decade.
In Sri Lanka's dream scenario, their quicks would have bowled as tightly as they had in Christchurch, got prodigious movement off the surface, and the wicketkeeper and slips cordon had a stream of nicks heading their way before lunch.
But it was not Sri Lanka's dream day. You knew this, because the local weather moved against them. (This is the local weather's one job, in Test series - Sri Lanka have the island's sweaty heat to unsettle oppositions at home). It was as windy a Test-match day as Wellington has had in years, messing with the seam bowlers' run-ups, forcing them to bowl into a half-gale half the time, prompting frequent line-and-length errors which became the kind of poor spells they did not bowl over two innings at Hagley Oval.
It was not an entirely luckless first day for Sri Lanka, but it was a tough one. The teams arrived on day two with New Zealand nicely placed. Henry Nicholls, the batter struggling the most in their top order, had already been reprieved on the first day, with Sri Lanka's debutant wicketkeeper Nishan Madushka unable to even get glove to a straightforward diving chance. Perhaps we blame the biting winds for that too.
In the early exchanges on Saturday, there are some signals how the rest of the day would turn out. Nicholls bats out a maiden to start, but Kane Williamson - who is in the midst of a purple patch in a purple career - leans into the kind of authoritative slap through the offside that makes entire stadiums exhale. While Nicholls takes some time to get moving, Williamson is immediately commanding - his drives imperious, his defence impeccable.
On his best days, Williamson bats as if he and the ball have struck a deal for it to arrive exactly at the location his bat is waiting to spank it. (Be 384 millimetres outside off stump, a metre up from the ground, at 11:47, 25 seconds and 285 microseconds.) Dream days. Before lunch he is blazing away through the covers, hooking Sri Lanka's fastest bowler for successive sixes, and creaming the ball down the ground.
He had started the day on 26 off 76 balls. He completes his fifty off 106. His century off 171. This an avalanche gathering speed and heft on its way down a mountain. The third fifty of Williamson's innings comes off 60 balls. Bowlers are being whipped to deep midwicket, crashed to square leg, punched through point. Sri Lanka are being buried.
Nicholls is batting pretty well too, but also, batting like a man desperately in need of a big score. It has been 15 innings and over a year since his last Test fifty. Later, he says he felt he'd been batting with good rhythm, but just couldn't make it work for long enough. Out-of-form batters always say this, but this time, it make some sense - Nicholls is mostly in control, and looks like a batter who has the measure of the bowling. But initially, he's not quite committing to the run-scoring shots.
Especially not compared to Williamson, who by this stage is like a music conductor, controlling the pace, rhythm, and vibe of everything on the field, including his 11 opponents. The moment Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne changes the field, Williamson finds a shot that exploits the new gap. Even the Sri Lanka players would concede that he is the best player on the park. Today, a dream day, he is batting like he is the best player on any park in the world.
His fourth fifty comes off 54 deliveries, and completes his sixth double-century. Only six batters have ever scored more - all bona-fide all-time superstars of the game. This is his fifth consecutive year with a double-hundred and his third triple-figure score in as many matches. Somewhere through this innings, Williamson also completed 8000 career runs - a peak no New Zealand batter had scaled.
Sri Lanka began the day with hopes of pushing for a series-leveling victory in this game. By the third session, New Zealand batters were swinging at them T20 style, setting up a declaration as Nicholls sped to his own double-hundred. At stumps, Sri Lanka were 554 behind, with no serious hope of adding to their two victories in the country.
To rub it in, New Zealand's bowlers got juice out of the pitch, and bowled probing lines and lengths to remove Oshada Fernando, before a spectacular Devon Conway catch got rid of Kusal Mendis. A dream day.