Wellington: The fluctuating nature of test cricket was never more evident than the last five days at Wellington`s Basin Reserve as New Zealand somehow managed to fight back to record an 193-run win in the second test over Sri Lanka and seal a 2-0 series victory.
Fortunes ebbed and flowed, individual battles were fought, won and lost, and momentum changed from session to session.
Both teams were on top, then under pressure, while Sri Lanka had victory in their grasp inside three days before cold-blooded grit from New Zealand took it away.
After being asked to bat on a green wicket, New Zealand were dismissed for 221 on the first day before they reduced Sri Lanka to 78 for five by stumps and pundits predicted a result inside four days.
Kumar Sangakkara, however, refused to countenance any of those predictions and showed why he is considered one of the world`s greatest batsmen as the 37-year-old, in the twilight of his career, seized the game by the scruff of the neck.
Having become the fastest man to 12,000 career runs, Sangakkara worked, deflected, prodded, slashed, drove and flicked the New Zealand attack all over the field, bending the game to his will with Brendon McCullum powerless to stop him.
"He is an absolute great player," home skipper McCullum said after his team completed their victory on Wednesday.
"Sometimes you`ve got to tip your cap and say, `he`s too good` when he`s in that frame of mind and playing as well as he is.
"It was a pleasure to watch him bat. It was frustrating from our point of view. At the same time, you`ve got one of the best seats in the house to watch one of the masters at work."
Fittingly, it took a moment of sheer athletic brilliance from Trent Boult, diving high and to his left to pull in a square cut from Sangakkara that left many, including the batsman, wondering how he had managed to wrap his fingertips around the ball to end the innings on 203.
Boult`s catch as it turns out was a perfectly microcosm of the fielding in the game. New Zealand held their catches when the chances came, Sri Lanka did not.
"We were able to put New Zealand under pressure by the third day but we missed a couple of sitters and good players make it count," Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said. "If we had held on to our catches, it would have been a different story."
A story, that should have had its final chapter written on the third day.
Sri Lanka had reduced New Zealand to 159-5, a lead of just 24 runs when Kane Williamson and wicketkeeper BJ Watling were thrust together with the visitors sensing blood and two days extra rest before the seven-match one day series.
Williamson, however, capitalised on being dropped three times to anchor New Zealand`s second innings and combined in a world record 365-run sixth wicket partnership with Watling, which took the game away from the visitors.
Boult and Doug Bracewell then ripped through the top of Sri Lanka`s second innings on the final morning, aided by some superb catching in the slips cordon.
Spinner Mark Craig then took three wickets after lunch to ensure New Zealand wrapped up the match with a session to spare and record their sixth win in their last 10 tests.
"For so long we were miles behind the game and it took something pretty special for us to get out of trouble firstly and then be allowed to dictate play," McCullum said.
"Overall, it was an excellent effort from our guys to be able to manufacture a win from nowhere really."