Black Caps in sight of victory

ON TRACK: Doug Bracewell will miss Central Districts' Plunket Shield clash with Wellington but is expected to be fit for the Black Caps tour of South Africa.
ON TRACK: Doug Bracewell will miss Central Districts' Plunket Shield clash with Wellington but is expected to be fit for the Black Caps tour of South Africa.

Almost a year since their Hobart heroics, Colombo's P Sara Oval beckons as New Zealand's cricketing field of dreams today.

Their final day of test cricket in 2012 offers the gilt-edged opportunity to blur some awful memories of five-test losing streaks, collapses and calamities on the road, the latest as recently as last week in Galle.

At stumps on a rollicking fourth day of the second test, New Zealand were poised to claim their first test victory abroad since last December in Hobart.

Sri Lanka were teetering at 47-4 when bad light stopped play, chasing 363 to win, after Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell combined to cripple their powerful top-order.

The hosts were given a little under four sessions to reach their target, after New Zealand declared at 194-9 in pursuit of their first win in Sri Lanka in 14 years.

And in the lengthening shadows, New Zealand's pacemen, brilliantly led again by Southee, strengthened the grip they'd held on the home batsmen for much of the match.

Fresh from 5-62 in the first innings, his third five-wicket bag in tests, Southee struck with the first ball of the run chase to rock the home team.

He trapped Tharanga Paranavitana lbw to send a tremor through the home crowd.

With the ball still swinging, Southee then enticed dangerman Tillakaratne Dilshan to nibble at a delivery and he was gone for 14.

Then Bracewell, after a quiet recent period, stepped up as he does in the fourth innings.

He had some luck, bowling Kumar Sangakkara (16) off his thigh pad, then followed up by nicking out skipper Mahela Jayawardene for five.

First innings topscorer Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews resume the fight later today.

Captain Ross Taylor was a key figure again and deserved plaudits for his team's fightback from the 10-wicket hiding in Galle.

When he scores big runs the captaincy questions dissipate.

He and Kane Williamson crafted first innings centuries to earn New Zealand's advantage, then Taylor guided them out of the tricky spot last night.

Leading by 168, New Zealand slumped to 75-5 and their hard-earned dominance was slipping.

Taylor dug in for 75 before a run-out mix-up with Southee, and with Todd Astle (35), an impressive debutant, added

But the question might not be whether New Zealand can bowl Sri Lanka out a second time, but whether they have enough cricket balls to do it.

Regardless of the result, it will go down as one of the more bizarre test matches of recent times.

The Kookaburra cricket balls proved as reliable as a chocolate teapot, and were changed four times in the first nine overs of New Zealand's second innings after each new one went out of shape.

The sight of the fourth umpire trotting to the centre with his case of cricket balls became as common as a batsman marking his guard.

Commentator and former international Craig McMillan labelled the situation ridiculous, saying he'd never witnessed anything like it.

It was a similar game of cat and mouse between bowler and umpire in Sri Lanka's innings of 244, as New Zealand persuaded the umpires to change the second new ball twice, in the 83rd and 90th overs.

The second change sparked up the Southee-Trent Boult duo as the hosts lost their last four wickets for 19 in 26 deliveries.

Southee took 5-62 and Boult 4-42 as the substitute ball started swinging noticeably and Boult got his reward for several energetic, accurate spells after beating the bat numerous times.

He ended the pesky seventh-wicket partnership between Samaraweera (76) and Suraj Randiv (39), which was worth 97.

Boult cleverly changed his line to Samaraweera and nicked him out, then trapped Randiv in front with a full inswinger.

After Southee removed Nuwan Kulasekara, Boult finished the innings thanks to  a stunning, left-handed grab by Williamson in the gully.

It was Boult's best figures in his eighth test, beating his 3-29 against Australia on debut in Hobart.

And for Southee it continued his golden period on the subcontinent.

In three tests in Bangalore, Galle and Colombo he had taken 17 wickets at an average of 14.11. 

Fairfax Media