Williamson takes NZ closer, but SL keep fighting
New Zealand 237 (Guptill 50, Chameera 5-47) and 142 for 5 (Williamson 78*, Chameera 4-45) need another 47 runs to beat Sri Lanka 292 (Mathews 77, Siriwardana 62, Southee 3-63) and 133 (Mendis 46, Southee 4-26, Wagner 3-40)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The sun was out, the sky was blue and the Sunday crowd added to a picture postcard day in Hamilton. Sri Lanka took a trip to Seddon Park to while the time away with a bit of cricket and were ambushed by New Zealand's bouncers.
Sri Lanka began the day needing one wicket to end New Zealand's first innings; they got it in six balls. Then came their best opening stand in 2015 - 71 runs - and then they lost 10 wickets for 62 runs in 13.5 overs to hasten the Test to its climax. The hosts need 47 more for victory, and they have Kane Williamson at the crease, looking at a century and the record for most Test runs by a New Zealander in a calendar year. He is 22 runs away from both landmarks.
Sri Lanka kept the contest alive with a few late strikes, and need five more to level the series. But they would rue the batting collapse earlier in the day - a wicket every six runs. You would think Tim Southee and company pulled elephants out of their hats to make that happen. Nope, all they did was decide they'd bowl short. Dimuth Karunaratne and Udara Jayasundera fell fending. Dinesh Chandimal picked out leg gully. Kusal Mendis, the top-scorer with 46, and Angelo Mathews, the captain, fell hooking and to cap it all off, there was a comical run out involving the tailenders. Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera were clumped at the keeper's end, giving a gleeful Neil Wagner the time to collect the throw from third man, run to the other end and knock the stumps over.
The bounce on this Hamilton pitch has been ample and true. Batsmen were given the luxury to leave balls even on middle stump if the length was short. They wouldn't be bowled, but no one from either side has caught onto that fact. As a result 31 of the 35 wickets in this Test have been out caught.
The other trait of this surface - its sharpish pace - may have worked against the batsmen though. So too the number of catching fielders for the defensive shot. Leg slip and short leg were permanent fixtures and as the day wore on, New Zealand dabbled with silly point, short midwicket and a fly slip as well. The ball was coming onto the bat, so aggressive strokes seemed a pertinent option to evade them. Except Sri Lanka couldn't.
Tom Latham and Martin Guptill fared no better in the second innings against Chameera. Williamson, even with a bum right knee, kept Sri Lanka at bay by putting on 67 runs with Ross Taylor and 52 more with Brendon McCullum. It took Chameera to break both stands and that was Sri Lanka's problem; none of the others made New Zealand nervous, until three minutes to the stumps when a lovely Suranga Lakmal outswinger got rid of Mitchell Santner.
There has been clear cut phases of play whenever this match has turned - Chandimal's ferocity on the first day, Chameera's burst on the second and on the third, it was Doug Bracewell's two wickets in three balls.
Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis had controlled the innings capably until then. They had walked out with a 55-run first-innings advantage on the back of their mind and the responsibility of turning that into a match-winning one on their shoulders. They were together for 22.4 overs; an age of prosperity in the context of the chaos that followed.
It took an excellent delivery to break through their resolve, and it took a lot out of the bowler Bracewell as well. He had just changed ends, and changed tactics as well. Every ball of the 23rd over was short and the fourth one came right at Karunaratne's nose. He was stuck in the crease and could only fend it into the slips. Two balls later, Jayasundera was walking back. He had barely marked his guard when a ripper of a short ball came his way. The attempt to sway away seemed to have worked - New Zealand's appeal was denied by on-field umpire Paul Reiffel - but DRS came into the picture to change all that.
It had seemed a straightforward call for TV umpire Richard Kettleborough when a flash appeared on Jayasundera's glove as the ball went past. The problem though was it vanished in the next frame. There was no spike on real time snicko either. But a zoomed-in camera angle from behind the batsman broke the deadlock. There seemed to be definite deflection, Kettleborough said he saw the glove move as well and gave it out.
Reiffel looked rather disgruntled as his call was overruled and Jayasundera was even more so as he made a slow trudge back. Later, a split-screen replay indicated the change in direction happened before the ball was anywhere near the glove. Kettleborough did not get to see this though at the time of his adjudication.
Sri Lanka's rage against the (DRS) machine would grow later in the day when Taylor survived a close lbw shout. Rangana Herath, who had induced the mistake by getting the ball to straighten, walked off in a stormy mood as replays showed the impact was marginally outside off. Had umpire Reiffel given it, DRS would have ended up confirming that and New Zealand could have been 34 for 3.
Barring that episode, it was pace that had the greatest impact. Specifically bouncers, which are Wagner's strength. He nabbed Chandimal, Sri Lanka's best batsman of the series, at leg gully. Sri Lanka's best batsman of the morning though was Mendis. He was approaching a maiden Test fifty at lunch, having weathered a blow to his right hand. It didn't hurt his timing too much, considering the eight fours he had. Going for another one soon after the break to claim the landmark, he picked out square leg and Santner took a stunning catch on the boundary's edge. Eighty-nine balls of hard work undone by a poor shot. It broke Southee's duck in the wickets column, he went on to take four of them. Less than as many Sri Lanka batsmen made it to double-figures.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo