Pressure on Sri Lanka - Williamson
On a surface that even New Zealand's tail made seem friendly, three of Sri Lanka's big four batsmen could not manage better than single figures, and Kane Williamson said the value of those wickets could not be understated, given the pitch remained good for batting.
New Zealand amassed 412 on the P Sara surface, thanks in the main to a 262-run partnership between Ross Taylor and Williamson, which was almost chanceless beyond the first hour of their union. In reply, however, Sri Lanka were reduced to 12 for 3 inside the first six overs of their innings, with their most experienced men in the top order all falling to New Zealand's opening bowlers.
Angelo Mathews then joined Tharanga Paranavitana at the crease and the pair survived the remaining 11.5 overs until stumps, but two boundaries that Mathews ventured in one Tim Southee over suggested the wicket had plenty more runs to give. The New Zealand bowlers also had far less assistance from the conditions than in Galle, achieving only a fraction of the movement they had showed themselves capable of gaining in the first Test.
"It's great to finish the evening the way we did, getting those three wickets," Williamson said. "I guess that makes our first innings total look a lot better, and there is a lot of pressure going on the Sri Lankan side tomorrow. "But as Mathews showed towards the end when he started playing some shots, it is still a good wicket."
Few would have imagined New Zealand would be in a position to pursue a large first-innings total only a few days ago, after their batsmen had collapsed woefully in their second innings in Galle, recording their lowest total in an already bleak year. Williamson's doughty 135 and a measured 142 from Taylor were the backbone of New Zealand's innings and Williamson said time in the nets had been key to their turnaround, in the absence of adequate match practice. The limited-overs leg of the tour was ravaged by rain, and the match schedule did not allow New Zealand time to play a warm-up before the Tests.
"It's been tough not having time in the middle and batting in the one-dayers, the circumstances didn't allow you to figure out whether you were hitting the ball well or not. I've been practising hard this week and it was very nice to put together an innings. I had a lot of time with batting coach, and hit a lot of balls."
Williamson's century was the third of his Test career and his second in the subcontinent, but he had only passed fifty once since his last hundred, a match saving 102 not out in Wellington. He said encouragement and insight from his more experienced team-mates helped him overcome the dry spell.
"I talked to Brendon McCullum and a few of the other batsmen, just to get my head around a few things because I hadn't scored for a few Tests. They all helped out and the team were supportive. Having not scored in the first Test, it was good to get the word from them on how things played here and take that into this match."
Despite their terrific position, New Zealand must still take 17 more wickets on a surface showing few signs of wear, if they are to score an unexpected triumph. Thilan Samaraweera moved down the order after he received stitches on his hand for split webbing, but he is expected to bat in Sri Lanka's first innings, and beyond the batsmen, the tail is one of the more capable Sri Lanka have fielded, with last man in Shaminda Eranga having made a first-class ton.
"They've got some seriously good cricketers, and to bowl them out twice is not going to be an easy feat," Williamson said. "We're not getting too far ahead of ourselves and we know we have to play good cricket each time we go out there."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent