Sri Lanka fight back on slow day
Sri Lanka 225 for 6 (Mathews 47, Samaraweera 76*, Southee 4-51) trail New Zealand 412 by 187 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Sri Lanka were still a long way off from matching New Zealand's score at the end of the third day, but gained a psychological boost by edging past the follow-on target of 213, thanks to a dogged stand between Thilan Samaraweera and Suraj Randiv. New Zealand would have fancied their chances of bundling out the hosts before that target and possibly making them bat again, but were held up by the pair and the fading light in Colombo that forced an early finish with another 25 overs remaining.
It was attritional cricket on the third day, because of the pressure created by the loss of wickets before lunch and shortly after. Like Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson had done on day two, Angelo Mathews and Tharanga Paranavitana kept the bowlers at bay for the majority of the morning session, but couldn't hold their guard till the break. Tim Southee's opening spell on the second evening gave New Zealand the initiative, and he proved to be just as incisive with the older ball, removing the set pair and making Sri Lanka's march towards the follow-on target a little tougher.
Samaraweera and Randiv came together at 128 for 6, after Prasanna Jayawardene top-edged a sweep to fine leg after lunch. The pair focused on wearing down the spinners, at a time when the seamers - Southee in particular - were given a rest. Randiv, who was shaky as a nightwatchman in Galle, appeared more at ease in his familiar position down the order and focused on supporting Samaraweera.
Samaraweera, who had injured his finger while fielding on the first day, didn't appear in discomfort against the ball that turned and bounced. All his boundaries in the second session came off Doug Bracewell, including a delicate dab wide of gully, a square cut and a flick past midwicket. Bracewell looked out of his depth, either bowling too short or too full. Bracewell likes to hit the deck hard but he often strayed too wide of the off stump. He failed to create chances, like Southee and Trent Boult had done. At one stage, he ran in from round the wicket with a slip, short leg, silly point and leg slip but Randiv was happy to evade the short balls.
Patel got turn and bounce off the rough and Samaraweera wasn't afraid to cut against the turn. The sluggish outfield and sweepers on either side of the wicket checked the scoring, but Sri Lanka eventually got past the follow-on mark, via an edged boundary past slip. New Zealand waited to take the new ball after tea, but couldn't break the partnership, which had extended to 97 before the umpires took a call on the light.
The majority of the morning session had been just as frustrating for New Zealand. It was a steady build by Mathews and Paranavitana, who gave the seamers some respect earlier in the morning with the movement on offer. Paranavitana needed a good innings to gain some more confidence ahead of a tough tour of Australia, and was strong square of the wicket, cutting Boult and Bracewell past point. Mathews offered the full face of the bat with his straighter drives. Mathews greeted Patel with a massive six over long-on but the bowler nearly had him leg before on 36 with one that pitched on middle and looked quite adjacent to the leg stump. Also, Ross Taylor fluffed a straightforward catch at first slip to give Paranavitana a life.
Southee's second spell changed the complexion of the morning. He ensured that dropped chance didn't cost much as he drew Paranavitana forward and induced an edge to Kruger van Wyk. Southee managed to squeeze in one more wicket, in his following over, when he got Mathews driving and edging behind. What looked like a regulation fourth-slip catch was taken spectacularly by Martin Guptill at third slip, diving full length to his right.
New Zealand picked up just one more wicket, shortly after lunch, and then failed to dislodge the seventh-wicket pair. They would have to make the new ball count on the fourth morning and secure a big enough lead before setting a target for the hosts to chase on the fifth day. They will also be fighting against time, given that all three days have been curtailed by the elements.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo