December 11, 2023

Sri Lanka captain Karunaratne pinpoints Henry batting as Blackcaps test turner

Matt Henry in action with the bat, as Dimuth Karunaratne reflects.

Heartbroken Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne has been left lamenting a thrilling final-ball test defeat to New Zealand that has dashed their hopes of claiming a spot in this year’s World Test Championship final against Australia.

While NZ middle-order batter Daryl Mitchell claimed Man of the Match honours at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval and batting superstar Kane Williamson guided the final run chase with his meticulous 27th test century, the visiting skipper has paid tribute to another little-heralded contribution that cost his team in the final analysis.

After scoring 355 in their first innings, Sri Lanka were in the driver’s seat on day two, when they had the home side at 151/5, with Mitchell left to find rearguard support among the NZ bowlers.

Mitchell steadied the ship with his fifth test century, but when he departed, New Zealand were still 64 runs in arrears with two wickets remaining and facing a deficit to start the second innings.

Enter Matt Henry, who simply took over where Mitchell left off, clubbing a career-high 72 runs off 75 balls, including three sixes, to steer the Blackcaps past their rivals and into a lead.   

“I think, that first innings, when Matt Henry got 70, that moment slightly left from us,” explained Karunaratne. “We should easily have had 100-150 lead, but unfortunately, that’s the moment we lost the lead and they got 18 runs ahead of us.”

Henry and Neil Wagner put on 69 valuable runs for the ninth wicket, with the latter scoring 27 off 23 balls, including three sixes, to prise the advantage away from the visitors.

The other key moment came on the last afternoon, as Williamson navigated towards his ton, but was dropped behind by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella on 33, just before drinks.

“That’s part of the game, but if we can grab that catch, it could have been a different story,” admitted Karunaratne. “We misfielded a few times that cost us the game.

“Going forward, I think we have to minimise those mistakes, if you want to beat a side like New Zealand in New Zealand.”

Karunaratne cuts a contrasting figure to England counterpart Ben Stokes, who was buzzing with excitement, even after his team fell to the Blackcaps by a solitary run in a similar climax at Wellington two weeks earlier.

“Gosh, what a game,” said Stokes afterwards. “If you are going to lose games, you’d like to be involved in a game like that.”

Clearly, Karunaratne does not share that sentiment, given the bigger-picture implications of the result.

“Unfortunately, we are on the losing side, but overall, I think we did a really good job here, losing the toss on a green pitch, but batting really well,” he said. “Even the second innings, the batters and bowlers, I’m really impressed with the boys and what they did in the last few days.”

Karunaratne must now rally his troops for the second test, starting Friday, as the Blackcaps return to the scene of the Basin Reserve miracle with a lead in the two-match series.

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