BJ Watling leads the way as New Zealand stretch lead to 177

BJ Watling plays with soft hands
Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day August 16, 2019

New Zealand 195 for 7 (Watling 63*, Latham 45, Embuldeniya 4-71) and 249 lead Sri Lanka 267 (Dickwella 61, Mendis 53, Mathews 50, Lakmal 40, Patel 5-89) by 177 runs

Lasith Embuldeniya did his best Rangana Herath impression on a wearing Galle track that raised puffs of dust, but BJ Watling combated his left-arm threat and put New Zealand right back into the game. While both Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor were out cheaply, playing a long way in front of their body or away from it, Watling was immovable. He simply did his thing: played close to his body, defended stoutly, and even read some of Akila Dananjaya's googlies out of his hand. From 81 for 4, he rallied New Zealand to 195 for 7 and a lead of 177 at stumps on day three. Watling is now just 35 runs away from surpassing Brendon McCullum as New Zealand's top run-getter among wicketkeepers.

When Watling entered, Sri Lanka's spin trio and the close-in catchers were circling around him like vultures around their prey. And when Mitchell Santner swatted a long-hop from Embuldeniya straight into the lap of deep midwicket, New Zealand were 124 for 6 at the stroke of tea. Sri Lanka threatened to ambush Watling and Tim Southee too with spin, but they weathered multiple bursts in a 54-run seventh-wicket partnership. Sixer Southee made way for blocker Southee as New Zealand slowly but surely built their lead. Southee was dropped twice, but Watling's innings was chanceless.

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He did have a nervy start, though, given out lbw by umpire Richard Illingworth when he was on 1. However, a review detected a thin nick and Watling bedded in. He wore down the spinners and once Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara were swapped into the attack, Watling eased into his shot-making stride. Kumara was cracked for back-to-back boundaries in the 71st over: a rasping straight drive followed by a less violent ramp over the cordon. Southee's vigil, however, had ended in the previous over when Embuldeniya tricked him with a delightful cocktail of drift, dip, and turn.

William Sommerville, too, displayed a tight defensive technique and earned Watling's trust, helping swell New Zealand's lead towards 200.

The narrative was different when Embuldeniya had nabbed both Williamson and Taylor in successive overs in a marathon spell, leaving the visitors gasping in the face of relentless pressure from the spinners. The New Zealand captain wound up playing a long way in front of his body, yanking his bottom hand off the bat, and skewing an overhead catch to mid-on while Taylor's panic-stricken advance down the pitch resulted in a simple catch to slip. New Zealand were 25 for 3 at this point, but Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls then put on 56 for the fourth wicket in 11.2 overs to give the innings a leg-up.

Latham was the enforcer, sweeping flat and hard and even dashing down the track to launch Embuldeniya over the midwicket boundary. However, the stand was nipped in the bud when Akila found sharp turn to scratch Latham's outside edge. Nicholls then jabbed at Dhananjaya de Silva and similarly nicked off, but Watling saved the day for New Zealand.

In the morning, it was the other wicketkeeper-batsman, Niroshan Dickwella, who made a statement after being ignored for the World Cup and then the ODI series at home against Bangladesh. Dickwella, on 39 overnight, finished with 61 off 109 balls, ushering Sri Lanka to a 18-run first-innings lead.

Resuming on an overnight 227 for 7, Sri Lanka added 40 to their tally in the morning session before being bowled out, with Trent Boult and Somerville taking the remaining three wickets and ending the innings about an hour before lunch.

The new ball was available at the start of the day's play, and New Zealand took it immediately. Boult pushed the batsmen back with a barrage of short balls, and while Lakmal was struck flush on his right elbow, Embuldeniya copped a glancing blow on the helmet. Two balls after being hit, Lakmal stood deep in the crease to a ball that wasn't short enough and dragged it back onto the stumps to be dismissed for 40.

At the other end, Dickwella was more competent against the short stuff, often rolling his wrists to keep the ball down. He moved to a rousing half-century with a dink to the leg side off Ajaz Patel, but Somerville dangled an offbreak wide outside off and had him slapping a catch to Williamson at short cover.

Watling headlined New Zealand's batting effort in their second innings before fading light forced early stumps.

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