New Zealand tried bowling short from around the wicket. They tried bowling full to tempt a loose drive, with plenty of catching men in front of square to snaffle a low chance. They bowled their spinner unchanged from one end for an entire session, then switched around their quicks so the ones who were running into the wind, now had the breeze behind them. There were short legs, square gullies, short mid-ons, every variation of the fine leg imaginable, leg slips, wide slips, and at one point, a fly slip.
But through the course of 108.4 overs, Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis dodged every arrow New Zealand fired at them. Not only did they not lose their wickets, they refused to even give the opposition so much as a half chance. There were no strong lbw shouts, and no edges that dropped just short (though a few balls did beat the bat).
At the end of it all, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson felt he could not fault his own team for effort or creativity, and could only praise the opposition batsmen for their epic feat of endurance.
"I don't think I've been part of a game where two guys have batted a whole day together and not given an opportunity," Williamson said. "Very rarely do you go a whole day where there's not an opportunity regardless of what you try. There were a couple of wide balls that lobbed maybe 10 centimetres in the air toward point, but only five metres in distance. I think that was the best we got. Without bounce in the surface and the defensive strokes that were played, nothing was carrying through to the keeper. We tried a number of short deliveries, which we'd like to think might have brought about something foreign in terms of strokeplay, but it was very difficult.
"That is one of the beauties of Test cricket - two guys put their hand up and didn't give us an opportunity for a day."
New Zealand's quicks had gone searching for swing with the new ball through their spearheads Tim Southee and Trent Boult, while Colin de Grandhomme had also attempted to get seam movement off the pitch. When those ploys failed on a surface that had become incredibly flat, short-ball barrages were attempted. Left arm spinner Ajaz Patel even tried going around the wicket.
"We sat down and had a number of conversations with other senior players at the breaks and said: 'What's something else we can try?' We tried pretty much all of it," Williamson said. "The guys had bowled a number of overs in the first innings as well, so it was about trying to balance that out and keep them fresh so we were able to apply pressure. There wasn't a lot happening off the pitch. We tried a few short balls and changes of tack, and tried to build pressure for a period of time to buy a wicket to a certain extent. But it wasn't to be."
New Zealand might have had a chance of breaking through and securing victory had rain also not arrived to wash out all but 12 overs of play on day five. Despite Mathews' and Mendis' record stand, Sri Lanka were still nine runs in arrears when play stopped. It is conceivable that had another 40 overs been played, New Zealand could have got themselves into a winning position.
"Shame to have the weather around today because we felt if we could pick up a wicket and get into their lower order there was still very much a chance of a result," Williamson said.