New Zealand 441 (McCullum 195, Neesham 85) and 107 for two beat Sri Lanka 138 (Boult 3-25, Wagner 3-60) and 407 (Karunaratne 152, Boult 4-100, Southee 4-91) by eight wickets.
The BLACKCAPS have never known a year like 2014. Wins against India, the West Indies (twice), Pakistan (away) and, at Hagley Oval, Christchurch today, Sri Lanka – makes this the most successful calendar year in New Zealand Test history.
The eight-wicket win didn’t come easily, either, despite the convincing margin. Having enforced the follow-on on day two of the Test, the BLACKCAPS were made to fight tooth and nail to secure the result, in the process highlighting the character and determination that’s underpinned their success throughout the year.
Resuming the day at 293 for five and an overall deficit of just 10 runs, Sri Lanka found themselves on the ropes immediately when Tim Southee sent back nightwatchman Tharinda Kaushal and, a short time later, Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews – essentially the last shred of hope for the visitors.
When Southee induced an edge from Dahmikka Prasad which was secured at slip by Ross Taylor, and spinner Mark Craig had Prasanna Jayawardene holing out to deep mid-off, Sri Lanka were 348 for nine (a lead of only 45) and seemingly ready to succumb before lunch.
However, a last wicket partnership of 59 between Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal frustrated the BLACKCAPS and ensured the lead was stretched to 105 by the time Trent Boult returned to the attack to chip out Lakmal on the stroke of lunch.
New Zealand’s opening bowling pair of Boult and Southee were again the champions of the day, continuing to run in with interest, and maintaining their pace and patience to end with four wickets apiece.
The BLACKCAPS had a couple of hiccups on the way to securing the win, losing Tom Latham to off-spinner Tharinda Kaushal and Hamish Rutherford to Eranga but, while having to work hard for their runs, were able to reach the target of 105 courtesy of not out batsmen Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor.
Williamson was unbeaten on 31 at the end; extending his 2014 Test aggregate to 921 runs at 61.93 (bettered only by Brendon McCullum’s 1164 at 72.75) while Taylor was 39 not out and able to celebrate striking the winning runs for the first time in his Test career.
Sometimes statistics do, actually, tell a story.
McCullum, named man-of-the-match for his whirlwind 195 in the BLACKCAPS first innings, ended the year with the world’s fourth-highest runs aggregate – and all three players above him (Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews and Younis Khan) played more Tests.
BJ Watling can look back on a year in which he effected more Test dismissals than any other wicket-keeper in international cricket – his 40 shading India’s MS Dhoni and Australia’s Brad Haddin.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee took 67 wickets between them in the nine Tests played – Boult 34 and Southee 33, prompting former Sri Lankan international and now commentator Russell Arnold to describe them as the best new ball bowling combination in the world.
Most significantly, perhaps, New Zealand will climb from their current Test ranking of No.7 to No.5 (leap-frogging India and Sri Lanka in the process) if they secure the series against Sri Lanka in Wellington next week, and Australia and South Africa win their current series against India and the West Indies, respectively.
Head coach and selector Mike Hesson has made one change to the squad for the second Test in Wellington starting on Saturday, with batsman Dean Brownlie making way for all-rounder Corey Anderson.