DateLine: 13th December 2006
Opting to bat first on a bowler's track arguably cost Sri Lanka the first Test against New Zealand, but they say they will do it again for the sake of Muttiah Muralitharan in the second. Batting first on a lively wicket backfired spectacularly in the Christchurch Test with Sri Lanka all out before tea for 154 on the first day, and New Zealand went on to win by five wickets inside three days. But as the teams assembled here for the second Test starting on Friday, Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said his decision on winning the toss was based on spin wizard Muralitharan bowling last, and nothing had changed. Sri Lankan coach Tom Moody backed his captain and said the gamble at the toss was about giving Muralitharan an opportunity to square the series. "Any world class spinner enjoys bowling in the fourth innings - it's where they are at their most dangerous," Moody said. "The reason we lost in Christchurch wasn't because we called incorrectly. Another 50-plus runs and we'd have won the game. Murali would have been a hell of a handful on day four." Even in the abbreviated Test, the New Zealand batsmen had trouble dealing with Muralitharan, who had match figures of seven for 99 off 48 overs. Moody's biggest concern was his batsmen, particularly after they crashed to 45 for six in the second innings, despite the pitch flattening out. "We realise we've let ourselves down in the batting department. We were short of runs in both innings and we have to continue and adjust to conditions," he said. The Sri Lankans trained specifically on seaming wickets with new balls in Colombo before they departed, while New Zealand have focused on handling spin bowling. Muralitharan caused all sorts of angst in the first Test and produced a surprise turn when he approached some right-handers from around the wicket, claiming Craig Cumming, Jamie How, Mathew Sinclair and Nathan Astle (twice). Five of his dismissals were to leg before wicket decisions as ultra-cautious batsmen prodded forward to smother spin that never really eventuated. Meanwhile, the first Test run-out of Muralitharan may continue to be a popular topic on talkback radio and newspaper letters columns in New Zealand, but it will not factor in Sri Lanka's motivation for the second Test. Moody said the controversial dismissal, where Muralitharan was run out while congratulating Kumar Sangakkara on a century, has been put behind them. "I don't think we need to draw on that to galvanize us. We're a strong, close unit as it is. We don't need any help in that department. The bottom line is it's out. It's nice we recognize the spirit of the game, and we felt a little bit disappointed that it wasn't taken into account."