New Zealand find reserves of resilience
"Reflection" has been the buzzword around the New Zealand camp since their loss in Galle. That is a strange concept in sport, because reflecting is something more often done after success. Rarely is the acceptance of a World Cup, a Grand Slam, a Major or Test Mace complete until some mention of allowing the moment to "sink in" has been made. Failure, meanwhile, elicits the desire to "move on". There may be some lip service to the idea of learning from mistakes, but the emphasis is on the future, on "coming back stronger next time."
New Zealand have instead dwelt on their distress. They've taken it all in - their lowest total of the year; their worst losing streak in 67 years; their second three-day loss in nine months. Somewhere amid the smouldering remains of their fifth straight defeat, they found the will to succeed. Through reflection, they have seemingly achieved rebirth, and two such disparate performances can rarely have been seen together in the history of their cricket.
New Zealand's new backbone has been evident since the moment Ross Taylor chose to bat, and has been present throughout the Test. From the afternoon of day one New Zealand have been ahead in the match, and although Sri Lanka fought back in patches, no one who has seen the first four days of play will say they deserve to win this over their visitors.
At 14 for 2 on the first morning, New Zealand looked set for a now perfunctory rolling collapse, but instead their captain rallied his young accomplice and the pair amassed their side's biggest meaningful stand in years. Whatever may be true about Taylor's leadership - and the din for his replacement has been growing louder for some time now - he has barely made a wrong move in this match.
In his batting, he has been cautious yet purposeful. Take his 74 today, which was struck at a swift 78 per 100 balls, but featured only two boundaries. Mahela Jayawardene may have been protecting the ropes throughout almost Taylor's entire innings, but it is not like New Zealand's captain to show restraint, even on along the ground. This is not a Taylor that has been often seen before. Even his field placements - the retention of the slip cordon and the choking of singles - have veered towards impeccable so far. He has trusted each of his bowlers, and though Doug Bracewell had been wicketless in the series until its final innings, Taylor tossed him the ball at first change, and he removed Sri Lanka's two best batsmen before stumps.
Tim Southee and Trent Boult have been peerless in this series as well, and they have been the prime architects of New Zealand's dominance in this Test, eclipsing the impact of even Taylor's 216 runs. In Galle, they found hooping movement in the air, and though they have swung the ball impressively in Colombo as well, discipline has been the supplement to their success when movement has eluded them. Even if Sri Lanka grit their way to an unlikely draw tomorrow, New Zealand have an unequivocal victory with which to leave Sri Lanka: a new ball pair who complement each other absolutely and are as promising as any young quicks anywhere in the world.
Beyond the major performances, New Zealand have also struck upon the unifying mood that once fuelled their success. In the first innings, numbers 8, 9 and 10 made 64 all counted, keeping Sri Lanka in the field for 116 deliveries between them. In the field in the first innings, Martin Guptill leapt low to his right at second slip, snatching a stunner to dismiss Angelo Mathews, who looked set for a lengthy defiance. The following morning, Kane Williamson took as fine a gully catch as any fielder will ever take, to ensure the contributions of Sri Lanka's tail did not match the heft of their own.
In the second innings, New Zealand lost three wickets in four deliveries, and where a week ago a triple strike would have heralded the end, Todd Astle drew from New Zealand's new swell of confidence and helped correct his team's course. The timing of the declaration was another sign of the distance New Zealand have travelled in the past week. Three hundred and sixty three is not a friendly target, but given Sri Lanka achieved 11 less than that on the same ground six years ago, it is not an impossible one either.
"Following the Test in Galle there was a lot of hurt," New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said. "We had performed pretty well in Bangalore and gave ourselves a chance, but results don't lie. Five in a row is hard to take. We all reflected on our performance and we did a lot of hard work and individuals took responsibility as well. A few guys went away and worked out their method with the bat."
Hesson's words echo those of each of his charges over the past few days. Before the Test, Southee said he and his team-mates had "trained the house down," and spoke of the desperation in the side to begin winning again. Crucially, that desperation has been tempered with the composure and patience that define good Test sides.
New Zealand felt they had turned a corner with their victory in Hobart last year, but there conditions had contrived to bring the two teams together and their win was proved an anomaly. There are no such powers at play at the P Sara. If they can complete another series comeback in Colombo on day five, perhaps the qualities that will have engineered their victory will lead to a more sustained revival.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent