Tour review

Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, 2019

Fidel Fernando

Test matches (2): Sri Lanka 1 (60 pts), New Zealand 1 (60 pts) Twenty20 internationals (3): Sri Lanka 1, New Zealand 2

Batting collapses, turning pitches, torrential downpours, hard-fought centuries and even a spin bowler reported for throwing: this two-Test series featured all Sri Lanka's most familiar tropes. What's more, their five-year drawless streak at home continued, despite the rain, with both teams taking 60 World Test Championship points.

This was particularly remarkable in Colombo, where the second innings of the match did not end until early on the fifth day; a skilled New Zealand bowling performance, and some brainless batting, sent things hurtling to a conclusion. That made it 27 Tests since Sri Lanka had hosted a draw.

That this tour took place at all was a relief, following the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks on April 21, which had claimed more than 250 lives. Just two months before the trip was set to begin, there had been nervousness at Sri Lanka Cricket that New Zealand would withdraw over safety concerns. But a successful ODI series in Colombo in late July against Bangladesh helped quell fears, while security assessments conducted by both boards suggested it remained feasible to stage a long tour at a range of venues. Perhaps New Zealand Cricket were sympathetic to SLC's plight: in March, they had cancelled a Test in Christchurch after the Bangladesh tourists were almost caught up in a horrific attack on a nearby mosque.

In the event, the tour could not have begun in more heart-warming fashion. The first day of New Zealand's three-day practice match, just north of Colombo, was enlivened by a group of local spectators producing a cake to celebrate Kane Williamson's 29th birthday. Williamson, whose global fandom had skyrocketed during New Zealand's run to the World Cup final the previous month, headed over in a drinks break to take a bite of the cake, then fed some back to the spectator holding it, as per South Asian tradition. A video of the fun went viral, and Williamson further endeared himself to the Sri Lankan public.

He went on to have an unusually quiet series, scoring nought, four and 20, but Ross Taylor, B-J. Watling and Tom Latham helped propel New Zealand to a reasonable position in the First Test, and a commanding one in the Second. By losing at Galle, then winning at the P. Sara Oval, they replicated their previous visit, in 2012-13.

The Twenty20 series was used by both teams as a proving ground for fringe players, with a view to the T20 World Cup in 2020. New Zealand rested Williamson and spearhead Trent Boult, but outstanding performances from stand-in captain Tim Southee helped them to a 2-0 lead. In the dead rubber, Lasith Malinga took four wickets in four balls to send a packed Pallekele stadium into raptures.

© John Wisden & Co