Cricket: First hour key for Black Caps

New Zealand's Tim Southee bowls during the third day of the second and final test cricket match...
New Zealand's Tim Southee bowls during the third day of the second and final test cricket match against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Photo by Reuters
There are many crucial periods in a cricket test, but the first hour of play on day four of the second test between New Zealand and Sri Lanka this afternoon looms as one of the most important.

New Zealand's chances of an elusive test victory rely heavily on them breaking down Sri Lanka's stubborn resistance with a couple of early wickets. If, however, the home side continue to hold on the test could meander to an unsatisfying draw.

Sri Lanka will start day four on 225-6, with Thilan Samaraweera on 76 and Suraj Randiv on a test-best 34, still 187 runs in arrears of New Zealand's first innings of 412. Neither side has batted at a fast clip but there's still enough time for the Black Caps to pick up a rare test win.

It would turn around a dreadful run of results, considering they went into the match on the verge of a record-equalling sixth-straight defeat.

"It's a massive hour tomorrow morning and if we can pick up a couple of wickets there and run through them early then who knows?" New Zealand bowler Tim Southee said of their chances of winning the test. "It's still in the balance and hopefully we can make the most of the position we have them in."

Southee has bowled brilliantly throughout the series, and has figures of 4-51 from Sri Lanka's innings on top of the four he picked up in the first innings of the first test (he didn't bowl in the second innings due to injury) and career-best figures of 7-64 in the second test against India in August. He's snared 16 wickets in his last three tests at an average of 14.31 - his career average is 36.21.

"I am going through a period now where it's coming out nicely and I'm managing to pick up some wickets but I think Trent Boult has a massive part to play in that as well," said Southee. "He's helped me out by building pressure at the other end and I'm sure his turn is just around the corner."

Boult has bowled without much luck in recent times and even yesterday saw a regulation catch from Tharanga Paranavitana spilled by Ross Taylor at first slip. He's bowling with pace and penetration but has picked up only eight wickets in his last four tests.

The wicket has offered something for the new ball bowler but is even-paced and comfortable for a batsman who can get himself in.

"The Sri Lanka run rate has been slower [than ours] so it just shows you that if you bowl in good areas it's not that easy to score," Southee said.

"It's definitely a new ball wicket. If you can grab a couple with the new ball, it definitely makes it easier and you can make in-roads into their batting lineup. Once the ball get's older, it tends to flatten out a wee bit."

Spinners Jeetan Patel and Todd Astle have picked up only one wicket between them in Sri Lanka's innings but could come into play more if New Zealand can set the home side a testing target on the fourth innings. The pitch is taking turn, although it's slow turn, but Patel and Astle could expect the wicket to deteriorate.


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