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New Zealand v Sri Lanka 2022/23

Kane’s dive to survive: How the last half hour of the New Zealand-Sri Lanka thriller unfolded

Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Day five, 37 overs of rain, seven wickets, a Kane Williamson century, and a last-ball finish. The Christchurch Test suddenly swerved towards the dramatic, and it made for a hair-raising finish. Aadya Sharma revisits the dramatic ending.

If you didn’t watch the Christchurch Test live, sit back and read. There’s a lot to take in.

Let’s start around half an hour before Kane Williamson’s last-ball dive, which you’ve surely heard about or seen already. Right, so, 68th over – 19 needed off 16. Why the balls, you ask? It’s the fifth evening: beyond that, it’s is a draw. Five more wickets, and it’s a Sri Lanka win, and a chance at the World Test Championship final.


Anyway, Williamson, cooler than most things in cricket, is busy adjusting his helmet grille as Asitha Fernando runs in. He pings in a wide bouncer at Michael Bracewell, who goes for the bait. It’s hit hard, no doubt, but it’s hit flat at Chamika Karunaratne, already yards into the field. No one celebrates, no one reacts. No one knows where this Test is going.

It’s 266 for six then. Skipper Tim Southee straddles in, adjusting his chest guard. Here’s Sixer Southee. Three of those will level the scores. No six-hitting required this time though: he needs to tap and give strike to Williamson, who is on a beautifully constructed 108.

Their teammates are sitting edgily in the dugout, the setting sun is piercing through the windows and into their faces. Neil Wagner – helmets on, pads on, everything on – is nervously swinging his bat around. Don’t ask what injury he has. He bowls with broken toes.

Williamson is masterfully finding gaps, pushing for twos. He gets a thumbs-up from the (new) skipper. All looks fine for now. They can still do it. Fifth ball of the same over, Fernando sprays a wide yorker. Not wide enough for Test cricket.

Two overs left, 15 needed. The in-house DJ is playing Forever by rock band Six60 to the crowd. We’ve seen too much T20 for this not to look like an achievable total.

But what do we know about Test cricket really?

7.25pm local time, two overs to go. Kasun Rajitha is at the top of his delivery mark when he gets the signal. He jogs to the crease, collects his cap from the umpire, and…walks away. Sorry, plan change. Lahiru Kumara to bowl the penultimate.

Williamson is charging back and across for twos, taking on fielders and making commentators yell. “Twos are killing Sri Lanka,” is heard on the mic. 13 off 11. Where’s the twist, guys?

The twist is one ball later when Sixer Southee tries to hit a sixer.

Short, pulled, in the air. Karunaratne is running backwards from short mid-wicket. Dhananjaya de Silva is tracking it from square leg. Wait. They’re running at each other. Karunaratne gives up to avoid a collision. De Silva has no option but to take it.

Oh, the anger that follows. De Silva snaps at Karunaratne for chasing it and giving up. His teammate is not in the mood and force-slaps a high five. They’re smiling again. What has Southee done?

Nine balls. 12 runs to get. Three wickets to get.

Matt Henry pops out. He’s got three stitches holding together his split right webbing. Williamson is still unfussed, tapping around for singles. Wagner hasn’t moved from the dressing room. Last ball of the over, Henry has a free pass: he slaps an agricultural, tail-ender swat towards the boundary where (another sub) Ramesh Mendis makes a frog dive.

A what? See below.

It’s where all the bizarreness truly begins. There’s no ‘Toblerone’ on the ropes for that exact patch, and the third umpire does all sorts of CSI: Miami “zooming into the number plates” stuff to uphold Mendis’ effort.

Last over, eight to win. Sandstorm by Darude is blaring in the background. The DJ really knows how to crank up the tempo.

So does Williamson. He waits for his final act.

Everyone’s (naturally) on the ropes. First ball, drilled to long-on. Williamson is desperate for a second, but his boot slips on the surface. He slumps to the floor. No second.

Henry sensibly hands the strike back to Williamson. Six off four – erm, do we need a boundary here?

Williamson flicks the next one to deep mid-wicket and tries another double. There’s no two there. Henry puts in an almighty dive. Replays are re-replayed, zooming in to check Fernando’s clean ball collection, to the point you can read the detailing on his forearm tattoo. Out goes Henry. Sri Lanka are pumping their fists.

In comes, wait a minute, birthday boy Wagner. He’s 37 today, has a torn hamstring and a bulging disc. Can he run? Pah, he’s sprinting into the middle. He’s as excited as a kid in a candy shop.

Five to win off three. It’s at that very moment Williamson decides to transcend into a different plane.

He square drives a full ball, craftily opening his bat at the last moment to get it finer, and bisects the fielders at deep cover and deep point. It’s an incredibly precise hit against a jam-packed off-side field. With Williamson, don’t ask how. Just say wow.

Two balls, one run to go. Fernando is done with yorkers.

He digs one in short. Too short? Williamson can’t reach it, he yelps “wide” in the stump mic. It flies over his head. Surely a wide? One for the over, says the umpire. Collective groans from the crowd.

And then, just to add a bit of a dramatic touch, someone decides to turn on the floodlights for that last ball.

Dot = draw. Single = New Zealand win. From four, it’s down to only two possibilities. Fernando sprints in.

Here goes.

It’s short again, and Williamson tries to chase it. Misses it. It’s probably the only thing he’s missed all day.

Wagner dashes across, forgetting everything about his back and hamstring. He dives. Niroshan Dickwella misses the striker’s stumps, but Fernando is halfway down the track already. He collects the ball, turns back and absolutely fires it at the other set.

The next bit is told by the picture on top: middle stump smashed, fielders holding heads; Fernando is halfway through a yoga pose. Wagner hasn’t dared to look back.

And Williamson, boy, Williamson. 194 balls and five hours in, he could not be beaten. He stretches out every bit of his frame, and he plunges. He dives to survive.

When he props up to see green on the big screen and actually registers what he has done, Williamson breaks into laughter. Still on his knees, he is hugged and kissed by Wagner. It takes some effort to draw Fernando out of his pitch-side trance. He walks away with his jumper around his neck, still shaking his head in disbelief.

257 chased in 53 overs, eight runs off the last one. A two-wicket win, and a fifth-day, last-ball finish.

What do we know about Test cricket really?

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