Sri Lanka vs New Zealand: Kane Williamson and Co find right recipe for well-balanced innings victory in Colombo

In some traditional French restaurants, the highest paid chef is not the head chef. The head chef is normally the second most experienced and second best paid chef. He (or sometimes she) gets the plaudits and the public recognition for the menu, but there is someone else who is paid more: the saucier. The saucier is generally the most experience chef, and they have the job of preparing the sauces. They have to get the right balance of spices, bitterness, sourness, sweetness, saltiness, creaminess and umami to perfectly match the dish that the sauce is to accompany. A great sauce has one or two noticeable flavours, but the rest of them are balanced so well that very few people can tell what the other elements actually are.

A great sauce is both rare and valuable. It is often what sets apart an average restaurant from an outstanding one, but small mistakes can ruin the whole thing, hence the need for a quality chef to make them.

At P. Saravanamutu Stadium (P Sara), New Zealand put together a perfectly balanced sauce type performance. A couple of players shone through, but the key difference between the sides was the performance of the whole squad rather than any individual star. There is a distinct contrast between this and the previous match, where the final performance was not so good, despite still having some good elements.

At P Sara, the big names were not the ones who performed. It was not a case of Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Trent Boult bullying an opponent. Rather there were other flavours that came through.

The umami came from Tom Latham. His innings was one of the stand out tasting notes. He provided the base for the sauce. Nothing too overwhelming, but a comfortingly familiar flavour. Latham’s innings was an innings of substance. He saw off the new ball on a P Sara pitch that had a bit of life in it (as it normally does) and then built through the middle overs, never allowing the bowlers to settle.

The creaminess in the sauce came from the bowling attack. Different elements all working together in balance. Tim Southee was swinging and seaming the ball out, while Trent Boult was swinging it in and pushing it across. Colin de Grandhomme was making the batsmen play, and regularly drawing the edge with his gentle outswingers. Ajaz Patel was straight onto a good line, length and pace, drifting it in then turning it away, while Will Somerville was drifting it out, then getting good turn and bounce back in. No flavour dominated, the bowling was perfectly complementary.

The sweetness in the sauce was provided by yet another rescue effort from BJ Watling. Not since Allan Border has there been a batsman who seems to be able to step up more convincingly and reliably when his team is in trouble. He came in with New Zealand still over 100 behind Sri Lanka’s total and 4 wickets down, and walked off when the innings was declared closed with New Zealand leading by 187. He started slowly, and his strike rate was below 40 at the close of Day 4. But once it was time for him to accelerate he did not poke around to try to get his century safely, instead scoring 24 (18) to help set up the target.

The spice in the sauce came from de Grandhomme with the bat. Watling’s job in the team is often to turn losing situations into ones where a draw is more likely than a loss. De Grandhomme’s job is to turn matches where a draw is probable into winning opportunities. In doing that, he has now got the highest strike rate in Test history (min 500 runs, and all balls counted). He specialises in demoralising tired bowlers. If he comes in near the end of the day, with bowlers into their third spells, then there is going to be trouble. And that was exactly the situation that he found himself in on fourth day.

He walked into bat with the scores roughly level, and just under 2 hours later he was walking back to the pavilion with New Zealand 138 runs ahead. Watling and Latham had dug New Zealand out of trouble. That is not de Grandhomme’s job. Instead he turned the tables and went on the attack. His 83 runs only took 77 balls, and included 5 sixes.

The first Test also had some tasty elements. It had a Taylor 86, an Patel five wicket bag and another fighting innings from Watling. But the ingredients alone do not make a great sauce.

Once the majority of the ingredients are in the sauce, the saucier then needs to stir, heat and wait. Wait for all the elements to come together. Add a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of herbs or a dash of pepper. A splash of white wine or perhaps a little cream or cheese. But the majority of the job is to wait until just the right time to serve it.

That balance was out in the first Test. In a creamy, emulsified French sauce, if things go wrong the sauce will split. Sometimes it can be repaired by adding some boiling water, or some iced water to balance out the temperatures, but sometimes it just needs to be thrown out and start again. The first Test was an example of that for New Zealand. The ingredients were all there for a victory, but the heat was not applied correctly, and Sri Lanka ran away with the match on Day 4. New Zealand could not rescue it.

Williamson in the second innings at P. Sara, however, did not repeat the mistake. He manipulated his ingredients like a master saucier. He added a little dash of Boult and Southee, then sprinkled in some de Grandhomme, Somerville and Patel, waiting and testing until the sauce was perfect. It needed a little dash of excellent Patel run out, and a touch of outstanding anticipation Latham catch, and even a little magic drift and spin through the gate by Somerville. But finally, just in time, the innings victory sauce was complete and ready to serve.