This seems to happen a lot. Teams rock up to the Basin Reserve, look at the green nature of the pitch and the captain (who is typically a batsman) gets nervous. When the test is before Christmas this is even more pronounced.
For the tenth test in succession here the team winning the toss chose to bowl first.
Looks can, however, be deceiving. A couple of years ago Bangladesh were sent in, and thanked their hosts by knocking up 595/8 dec. In 2012 South Africa made 474/9dec, having passed 300 for the loss of only two wickets. It is not just New Zealand who have been seduced by this; five years ago this week the West Indies sent New Zealand in who piled up 441.
After 20 minutes this morning it looked as if inserting the opposition was an obvious, and match defining thing to do. Sri Lanka was 9/3 and people were wondering what to do on Tuesday.
Not that the pitch had anything to do with those wickets. The first two wickets came as a result of superb swing bowling from Southee before Mendis played a poor shot fourth ball.
There could have been more, but once the first hour had been negotiated it became a different game.
Karunaratne and Mathews were then largely untroubled in amassing a 133 run partnership for the fourth wicket. The former was a little lucky in being caught off a no ball before lunch, but the biggest question to come out of that is how can someone bowling at Colin de Grandhomme’s pace bowl such a big no-ball?
Once that partnership was broken Chandimal never looked comfortable, especially when being tested by Southee with some short stuff, before holing out to Patel in the deep.
That was Southee’s fourth wicket, a record for him at the Basin Reserve. He prospered when pitching it up with the new ball, and now he was being just as effective doing a Neil Wagner imitation act.
Soon after he had his first 5WI at the ground. As well as Karunaratne and Mathews batted they were both strangled down the leg side when well set which is the last thing a team said to be in internal turmoil needs.
Then there Dickwella, with a very well-constructed innings of strong cutting, scoops, ramps, and reverse sweeps while still farming the strike like a promo. 33 runs in a 35 run partnership is quality batting with the tail.
This pitch is not a green, seamer-friendly pitch; a 133 run partnership proves that. The damage was done by swing early followed by batsmen being uncomfortable with the shorter delivery.
277/9 is pretty decent given their start, but this should be a high scoring test.
Footnote: Ajaz Patel has a strong game when it comes to dropping hints. From repeated stretches in the outfield to practicing deliveries during a (Powerade) drinks break he maintained the pressure throughout. Not that it paid dividends.