Astle and McCullum wrest control
New Zealand's middle and lower order piled on the misery for Sri Lanka on the second day, building on the foundations laid on the opening day by Hamish Marshall. Nathan Astle cashed in with his tenth Test hundred, Brendon McCullum entertained with a fine 99 and James Franklin showed off some potential with 55. New Zealand scored a massive 561 to leave Sri Lanka facing a three-day rearguard.
Having been ill-treated for most of the day, Sri Lanka ended it on a better note as Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya sprinted out of the blocks, racing to 48 without loss at the close with a series of emphatic strokes. Both appeared to be in good touch and the short session was a gentle warning to New Zealand's bowlers who, despite having a mountains of runs to play with, must recognize the pitch is still a road.
After being ruthlessly dominated by unflinching Australian bowlers for the past few weeks, the Sri Lanka tour has provided New Zealand's batsmen an ideal balm for their bruised egos. Without Murali and with Chaminda Vaas well below par, Sri Lanka's bowling attack, barring the effervescent and unconventional Lasith Malinga, lacked teeth. It would have helped if their fielders had held their chances though - Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Chandana were all guilty of costly misses.
Sri Lanka's only realistic chance of staying in the game was to blast through New Zealand's lower-middle order during the morning with a new ball and wrap up the innings for below 400. Although the hosts had a shaky period midway through an extended morning when Marshall and Lou Vincent both fell in quick succession, New Zealand were safe by lunch on 379 for 5, meaning the afternoon was all about damage limitation. However, as Astle and McCullum, a busy body of a batsman, turned the screws during a 129-run stand for the sixth wicket, they started to wilt.
Astle, New Zealand's Mr. Fix-it, plodded along steadily, surviving a few scares along the way, including an edge that dropped just short of first slip in the morning besides an lbw reprieve from Darrell Hair - one of three good appeals turned down by Hair - when he missed a straight ball from Chandana on 91. McCullum, meanwhile, was industrious, actively searching out runs and often gambling with pre-meditated or high-risk strokes. However, having played himself in he batted superbly, almost batting Gilchrist-like verve.
As the runs piled up and the partnership continued through the afternoon, Mahela Jayawardene peered on ruefully from the slips, aware that his fumbled attempt at first slip when McCullum was just six was a crucial miss. Marshall had just spooned up a catch to mid on out of the blue and Lou Vincent was caught in the slips after nibbling outside his off stump to leave New Zealand wobbling, slightly, on 317 for 5. If Jayawardene - the third first slip of the game in a merry-go-round slip cordon - had pouched McCullum moments later then the day could have ended very differently.
In the end it took a brilliant two-handed catch by Jayasuriya at gully off a powerfully-hit square-drive to end Astle's resistance: 114 from 203 balls with 17 boundaries, most of them punchy drives or neat clips. McCullum and James Franklin frustrated Sri Lanka further with a 41-run stand. Tillakaratne Dilshan was literally given a headache after a full-blown sweep thudded into the back of his helmet at short-leg. He was visibly dazed but undeterred and stayed on the field for the final half hour of the session.
Malinga, still brimming with energy, pounded in relentlessly, his already horizontal arm dipping lower and lower as he tried to conjure up some reverse swing. The umpires, who removed their dark maroon ties to help the batsmen pick up Malinga's point of delivery, may have feared the removal of their smart dark slacks. Malinga ended McCullum's hopes of a second Test century with a clever and skillfully executed change of pace. McCullum, clearly seeing the ball like a beach ball at the time, was completely flummoxed and palpably lbw. He marched off holding his head in a mixture of disbelief and disappointment.
Malinga was by now firing on all cylinders, hunting for his first-ever five-for. Kyle Mills was bowled third ball by a curving full toss that slammed into the base of his stumps. Atapattu persisted with Malinga after tea but gradually he ran out of steam and Franklin then tucked into the slower bowlers, carting four boundaries and one six during a maiden Test fifty. Rangana Herath finally mopped up the tail midway through the evening to leave Sri Lanka with a potentially tricky session to bat before the close. They survived with some style but a long fight awaits tomorrow.
Hamish Marshall c Vaas b Malinga 160 (312 for 4)
Spooned an innocuous-looking delivery to mid-on with a mistimed push.
Lou Vincent c Dilshan b Kulaskera 0 (317 for 5)
An early-innings push at a good length delivery and edged to second slip.
Nathan Astle c Jayasuriya b Vaas 114 (446 for 6)
Slicing square-drive that was brilliantly caught at gully.
Brendon McCullum lbw Malinga 99 (487 for 7)
Completely deceived by a perfectly-pitched slower ball.
Kyle Mills b Malinga 4 (497 for 8)
Clean-bowled by fast reverse-swinging yorker.
Paul Wiseman c Atapattu b Herath 27 (540 for 9)
A mistimed clip to midwicket.
James Franklin c Malinga b Herath (561 for 10)
Skied into the deep.
Charlie Austin is editor of Cricinfo in Sri Lanka