Taylor, Williamson put New Zealand in control
New Zealand 223 for 2 (Taylor 119*, Williamson 95*) v Sri Lanka
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
In an otherwise one-sided tour, New Zealand finally took ownership of an entire day. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor showed refreshing patience and application to wear down the Sri Lanka bowlers for the better part of three sessions to set a solid platform for a big score. All talk of a bouncy pitch and seaming conditions were put to rest as the bowlers struggled to create chances, with both batsmen adding an unbeaten 209.
One of the main reasons for New Zealand's slump in Test form was the inability of their batsmen to occupy the crease and build partnerships. New Zealand have only five century stands this year, the highest being 124 between Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum against Zimbabwe in Napier, until Taylor and Williamson overtook it, against a far superior bowling attack in foreign conditions.
Taylor, himself struggling for consistency, had spoken about taking an aggressive approach to help his side compete better. However, unlike his blistering century in the Bangalore Test, Taylor was more watchful and with Williamson focused on wearing down the bowlers. New Zealand were more watchful from the second session, offered no chances and that was largely because their defence was more watertight. Both progressed at similar pace, and while Taylor brought up his eighth Test century, Williamson was five short of his third century before rain forced an early finish.
The pair came together at 14 for 2 and it was an opportunity for New Zealand to put to practice all talk of showing better application with the bat. Taylor survived a few nervy moments, edging a drive wide of the slips on 14 and getting a thick inside edge off a square drive that went for four. A controlled upper cut over the slips got him going and it helped that Williamson got a measure of the conditions early and looked to be positive.
While Taylor looked edgy at the start, Williamson didn't. He began with a neat punch off Nuwan Kulasekara past the covers and once spin was introduced in the 15th over, he used his feet well. Rangana Herath posed questions straightaway when he got one to turn and grip from middle stump and nearly shave the off stump, one that had Williamson foxed. There weren't too many such unplayable deliveries as the day wore on. Williamson didn't let that trouble him as he charged Herath and lofted over mid-on and followed it up with a neat extra-cover drive.
Taylor reached his fifty in the first over after lunch with a glance to fine leg off Shaminda Eranga and Williamson approached his milestone with two boundaries off the same bowler. Sri Lanka bowled 14 consecutive overs of spin, with no success. Suraj Randiv operated with a slip and a backward short leg and managed turn and bounce but the batsmen managed to smother the turn. He even bowled to a 6-3 on-side field from round the wicket, with a deep backward square leg for the sweep but the batsmen didn't oblige. At one point, Herath had a short extra cover and a silly mid-off, but none of those field sets induced false strokes.
Only five boundaries were scored in the second session, as the pair focused on rotating the strike, with the field getting more defensive. Kulasekara, who was brought back into the attack after a long spell of spin, couldn't get the old ball to swing. An edged boundary to third man took Taylor into the 90s, but he wasn't in any hurry to reach his century, ensuring New Zealand went to tea unbeaten.
Taylor reached his century with a clip to deep square leg off Eranga and carried on with some pleasing drives off the fast bowlers. There was reverse swing after tea, but the batsmen negated it well. Williamson, who showed a lot of patience against the spinners, punched Herath against the turn to find the boundary that took him to the 90s.
The only time Sri Lanka tasted success was in the first half an hour. Guptill, already struggling for runs, managed a thick outside edge to Angelo Mathews at slip to give the hosts a breakthrough in the first over.
McCullum went forward to defend close to the pads but unfortunately, the umpire failed to spot a thick inside edge and sent him on his way. A peeved McCullum didn't hold back his glare at the umpire as he walked off at 14 for 2 in the fourth over. From then on, it was all New Zealand.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo