Kumar Sangakkara dominated the first day of the second Test at the Basin Reserve with an unbeaten century, his second in a row and the 12th of his career, to save Sri Lanka from freefall. Sangakkara's 156 - which included a 119-run stand with Chamara Silva - secured a modest total of 268 before Lasith Malinga sealed a first-day advantage with a high-class burst of genuinely quick bowling to leave New Zealand struggling on 66 for 4.
New Zealand held the initiative when they wrapped up the innings quickly after tea, with Daniel Vettori and Shane Bond snaring two wickets apiece. But Farveez Maharoof bowled Craig Cumming to set up an intense hour of Test cricket to finish the day. Malinga had Jamie Howe trapped lbw and then Stephen Fleming - not a popular man in the Sri Lanka camp after his pre-match comments on the controversial Brendon McCullum-Muttiah Muralitharan run-out in Christchurch - could not evade a fierce lifter.
Nathan Astle and Matthew Sinclair battled on for a few overs. Both were peppered with nasty short deliveries from Malinga while Muralitharan, once again attacking the right-handers from around the wicket, created a few nervous moments from the other end. Then, in the final over of a fascinating day, Malinga followed a slower ball with a fast inswinging yorker that cannoned into the base of Astle's off-stump, sealing the day's honours for a buoyant Sri Lanka team.
Earlier, Sangakkara came to the rescue of his top-order colleagues for the second successive innings after Chris Martin had made deep inroads during the first hour, claiming the wickets of Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene to leave Sri Lanka at 41 for 3. Sangakkara steadied the innings with a 40-run stand with Chamara Kapegedera, upped the ante with the fast-scoring partnership with the enterprising Silva and topped it with 37 more with Prasanna Jayawardene.
Sri Lanka kept faith with their inexperienced middle order, resisting the temptation to call back Tillakaratne Dilshan after their five-wicket defeat in Christchurch. Mahela Jayawardene also insisted on batting first after winning the toss again. Sri Lanka acknowledged that they were asking a lot of their young batsmen in unfamiliar conditions, but they were convinced that their best chance of winning involved Muralitharan bowling in the last innings.
Sangakkara bristled with positive intent and determination from the time he marched in to bat in the second over. He looked at ease against all the bowlers and mercilessly pounced on anything loose. The closest he came to being dismissed was a missed run out chance from Matthew Sinclair in the 90s. Otherwise, he looked as secure as a barn door.
Martin, the pick of the seamers with a morning haul of 3 for 20 from eight testing overs, started Sri Lanka's problems early with Jayasuriya edging straight to Fleming. Jayasuriya will be 38 when Sri Lanka play their next Test, a couple of months after the World Cup, and his final innings will probably be the end of his Test career. Sadly, in this series, he has not got a start. Tharanga looked promising with one lordly straight drive, but then became Martin's second victim as he feathered a delivery that jagged away and lifted steeply. The edge was a thin one, but Tharanga walked immediately, saving the umpire from a potentially tricky decision.
Jayawardene, like Jayasuriya, had failed to make an impression in the first Test after two soft dismissals. Considering the inexperience of the batsmen to come, his partnership with Sangakkara was going to be crucial to the innings. Once again, though, he was unable to settle before being disconcerted by some extra lift and chopping onto his stumps. Sri Lanka fought back in the second hour first with Kapugedera and then Chamara Silva spending time with Sangakkara. Kapugedera scored just five but he helped add 40. He stayed at the crease for 23 balls and left the ball well before pushing at a wide-ish delivery from Jacob Oram. It was a similar dismissal to the first Test when he was caught at point, the stroke of a player raised on slow, low pitches.
Silva came to the crease on a pair and looked understandably anxious to get off the mark. Even after doing so, his batting retained a frenetic air as he attempted some cavalier strokes, most notably a wild slog off Vettori's first delivery. However, he survived to the break and then blossomed afterwards, revealing just why he is so highly regarded by coach Tom Moody, with some delicious strokes, including a glorious straight six off Vettori and one sumptuous on drive.
After the break, with Silva playing a shot a ball, Sangakkara adopted a more watchful approach. Eventually, Silva paid the price for chasing a James Franklin delivery and was caught at slip by Fleming. Prasanna Jayawardene might have been caught at slip on 4, but McCullum was unable to hold on after a full-length dive in front of first slip. Another edge dropped just short of Fleming before Prasanna Jayawardene grew more confident, cover driving Bond for two boundaries and lofting Vettori for a straight six. But then, on the stroke of tea, Vettori got his revenge as he won an lbw appeal.