<
>

Tom Latham, Kane Williamson grind Sri Lanka on batting day

Tom Latham celebrates his patient Test century Associated Press

New Zealand 311 for 2 (Latham 121*, Taylor 50*) lead Sri Lanka 282 (Mathews 83, Dickwella 80*, Karunaratne 79, Southee 6-68) by 29 runs

One of Sri Lanka's two Test wins in New Zealand has come at the Basin Reserve. At the end of the second day's play, it looks increasingly possible that they are unlikely to reprise that stunning win from 2006, after Kane Williamson and Tom Latham deflated them on a batting day as New Zealand nudged ahead by 29, with eight wickets in hand.

In that Test, Sri Lanka had Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga to call upon after posting close to the 282 they managed here. On Sunday, barring Lahiru Kumara's bristling pace and bounce, there was little bite in the bowling. This meant a party for large parts of a three-hour passage in the afternoon for Williamson, who put together 162 with Latham at more than four runs per over.

If New Zealand were to be a little critical of their efforts, they would rue gifting both wickets to Sri Lanka. Jeet Raval's wait for a maiden Test century continues as he was out to an ill-advised pull to a delivery that just didn't come on, and took the toe-end off a Kumara short ball, as he played early, to wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella.

Williamson missed his 20th Test century by just nine runs shortly after tea when he swept an innocuous Dhananjaya de Silva delivery to backward square leg. But Latham carried on, in his own industrious way, overcoming pockets of struggle and a hint of luck early in his innings, to bring up his seventh Test century, thereby breaking a three-figure deadlock that eluded him for 11 Tests since his marathon 177 in Wellington against Bangladesh in January last year.

If these two efforts weren't enough, Ross Taylor came in to replace Williamson and helped himself to a buffet spread against a tired attack to eke out a half-century, surpassing Brendon McCullum along the way to become New Zealand's second-highest run-scorer in Test history. Like Latham, Taylor too was a recipient of Sri Lanka's generosity when Dhananjaya put down a wild slash at first slip on 23 off Lakmal. With the fields largely spread out on the face of Dinesh Chandimal's defensive captaincy, this was a perfect recipe to build a lead. This meant New Zealand were in a position where they could entertain thoughts of batting just once in this Test.

It seemed as if Williamson was on pause-play mode, continuing from where he left off in Abu Dhabi 10 days ago, where he made a remarkable Test century against Yasir Shah and company on a crumbly surface. In comparison, Sri Lanka's attack was much milder here, with the three-man pace pack struggling to sustain any kind of pressure, first with the new ball and then later in the day even as there was a hint of reverse swing. Dilruwan Perera, a force on dry subcontinent turners, also went wicketless.

Where New Zealand employed spin for just three overs, Chandimal bowled Dilruwan and Dhanajaya for a combined 21 overs, for the cost of 89 runs and Williamson's wicket, much against the run of play. But while he was at the crease, he profited from punchy strokes on the up, his first three scoring shots coming off boundaries as he quickly matched Latham, who had taken 74 balls to make just three runs more.

The first of those boundaries was off a genuine outside edge that raced past second slip. It would be the only streaky boundary from Williamson's bat. The second and third were trademark back-foot punches that pierced the off-side ring. At the end of the first session, it was amply clear which side felt the heat, as Williamson raced past his 29th Test fifty with the promise of much more.

All along, Latham kept soldiering along at a steady pace without actually being noticed at the other end. That he managed to stave off Suranga Lakmal's late inswing from around the stumps was largely due to his tight technique and the shelving of loose drives. He survived early in the innings too, because of poor field placement. Jabbing at a late inswinger from Lakmal, the ball popped off a thick inside edge to where a short leg would've been.

Sri Lanka's frustration increased when they lost a review in the third over after lunch, the 26th of the innings, when they referred an lbw appeal against Latham off Lakmal. The ball would've smashed into the stumps, but for the line - it pitched outside leg. From there on, there was hardly any noise or intensity created by the bowlers, who largely went through the motions.

After a brief spell in the morning session, Mathews wasn't given a bowl for the remainder of the day when it seemed as if Sri Lanka could do with his relentless plugging away around the off stump. It's also possible this could've been part of his workload management, given this was the first time he was bowling in a Test since January 2017 because of a spate of injuries. With more pace on the ball courtesy Kumara and the erratic Kasun Rajitha, Williamson treated the Sunday crowd to an array of dazzling off-side play.

This stand was built upon a solid foundation laid by the openers - Raval and Latham putting on 59, nine more than their highest stand in six innings on the UAE tour against Pakistan.

Earlier in the day, Dickwella played a trademark scoop to begin proceedings, but Sri Lanka added just seven to their overnight 275 for 9 before last man Kumara was dismissed. He was superbly caught at leg slip by Colin de Grandhomme, off a thick inside edge that flew in between the batsman's legs. Dickwella was stranded on 80, three short of his highest Test score, as Tim Southee finished with 6 for 68 - his eighth five-for in Tests. This was also his maiden five-for at the Basin Reserve.