After heavy morning rain had caused a 90-minute delay, Sri Lanka's bowlers chipped away relentlessly, whittling out six wickets before bad light took the players off with New Zealand having just avoided the follow-on target. Thilan Thushara and Muttiah Muralitharan were Sri Lanka's bowling heroes, while Tim McIntosh, who faced 226 balls for his 69, led the resistance for the visitors. Along the way, Murali passed Shane Warne for the most maidens bowled in Test cricket (1761), and New Zealand were left to rely on their allrounders to take them past the follow-on target.
When Jacob Oram was wrongly given out caught off the pad soon after tea, New Zealand were still in danger of being asked to bat again. But Jesse Ryder, who had got going with a couple of emphatic pulls off Thushara, and Daniel Vettori staved off the spin threat and when the new ball was finally taken after 97 overs, a cover-drive from Ryder ensured that there would be no prospect of an innings defeat.
He went soon after, bowled playing an airy drive at Nuwan Kulasekara, and there was a stroke of fortune for New Zealand just before stumps when Daniel Vettori was palpably plumb to a Murali doosra. Everyone but the umpire was convinced, and Vettori could have been excused a shy grin as he walked off for the day.
McIntosh and Ross Taylor had batted through most of the afternoon, long periods of stolid defence interspersed with moments of real anxiety. McIntosh survived a couple of vociferous leg-before shouts from Murali, while Taylor was twice reprieved, on 15 and 27. Mahela Jayawardene couldn't get his hands to a low chance at slip off Ajantha Mendis, and he was again the injured party as Nuwan Kulasekara spilled a slog-sweep.
It was a stroke that Taylor had employed earlier, with one soaring over the rope at square leg, but by and large, attacking strokes were few and far between. McIntosh struck one superb straight six off Mendis, but neither batsman was remotely assured against Murali's wiles, especially with the ball angling in from round the wicket.
The two spinners bowled in tandem for most of the session, but it was only when Mendis was taken off after a 14-over spell that Sri Lanka broke through. Taylor hung his bat out at one from Thushara, and Prasanna Jayawardene did the rest. Soon after, McIntosh's luck ran out. This time, the leg-before shout was marginal, on or just outside the line of off stump, but after a long think, Daryl Harper raised the finger. When McCullum then chopped Thushara onto his stumps, New Zealand were in desperate trouble.
They had managed fine in the abbreviated first session as McIntosh, troubled periodically by the short ball, gritted his way to a half-century. Patel provided stout resistance as the bowlers toiled hard without reward. Murali bowled the first over and was then taken off, and it was Thushara who asked all the initial questions. Patel was sound and confident in defence, nudging the odd single, while McIntosh left the ball alone more often than not. Against the short ball though, he was in all sorts of strife, getting hit first on the shoulder and then flush on the helmet.
Patel's innings was part grit and part good fortune. There was one lovely drive through the covers off Thushara, but it was followed by an awkward shot that flew past the slips as he sought to duck under a bouncer. McIntosh survived a huge shout from Mendis, with the umpire perhaps thinking there was an inside edge, and it looked like it was going to be New Zealand's morning as a rare full toss was pummelled away to take McIntosh to his half-century. But then Murali struck, trapping Patel in front after a 57-ball 26, and it was left to Taylor and McIntosh to rebuild. But so slow and painstaking was the progress, with Murali putting together 29 uninterrupted overs for just 54 runs, that it was only a matter of time before Sri Lankan pressure told.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo