Given that there was not much difference in the colour of the pitch from the adjoining square, it was a "pretty easy decision" for Angelo Mathews to bowl after winning the toss at Basin Reserve. Add to that overcast skies and the conditions appeared tailor-made for seamers. That decision seemed to have backfired as no swing or seam was apparent and New Zealand were untroubled till after lunch, scoring at more than four an over. However, the Sri Lanka seamers, led by Nuwan Pradeep and buoyed by the dismissal of Brendon McCullum for a two-ball duck, came back strongly in the second session as New Zealand lost their last eight wickets for 80 runs to be bowled out soon after tea.
However, much of that early advantage was eroded by the end of the day as Sri Lanka's top order slumped against the moving ball. The swing that the Sri Lankans had been searching for, the New Zealand bowlers found straightaway. Thirteen wickets fell in the last two sessions, five of them Sri Lankan, and the visitors were now in danger of conceding a big first-innings lead.
Trent Boult made the first strike, forcing an outside edge from Dimuth Karunaratne in his fifth over, before Doug Bracewell, chosen over Neil Wagner specifically for this pitch, struck in consecutive overs to leave Sri Lanka wobbling at 29 for 3. Mathews resisted for a while before being squared up by an outswinger from Tim Southee, while Prasanna Jayawardene edged Bracewell to second slip off the last delivery of the day. The hopes of any rearguard action rested solely on Kumar Sangakkara, who crossed the personal landmark of 12,000 Test runs, and showed signs of comfort towards the end as his trademark cover drive made appearance.
The Basin Reserve strip had promised more for the bowlers than the green Hagley Oval pitch last week on which McCullum had trampled on Sri Lanka's hopes. Similar fate seemed in store for the visitors as Kane Wiliamson and Ross Taylor added 79 runs in 95 balls to lift New Zealand to 141 for 2, the toss win appearing a lost opportunity. That was till one Pradeep delivery moved off the pitch and caught the inside edge of Taylor's bat to rattle the stumps.
Next over, McCullum inside-edged a Suranga Lakmal delivery on to his stumps playing a shot that has been his solid ally over the past 12 months - the back-foot punch. What difference can a change of date make in someone's fortunes? Ask McCullum. In 2014, he couldn't make a mistake even if he wanted to. He was scoring runs at home, he was scoring them away, he was being rock solid and he was being downright disrespectful to bowlers. His previous innings at Basin Reserve - 302 against India - was the highlight of a magnificent year for which he was handed the key to the city by the mayor of Wellington during the lunch break. The first innings of 2015, though, turned out to be brief and it was the inspiration Sri Lanka were looking for after being betrayed by the greenery. From 141 for 2, New Zealand were 142 for 4.
Although there was still no alarming help from the pitch, Sri Lanka's bowlers stuck to better lines and extracted just enough to create pressure on the batsmen. James Neesham, who had scored a century on debut at this ground a year ago, played a loose drive to be caught behind off Pradeep, then BJ Watling steered a wide delivery from Mathews into the hands of first slip. When Dhammika Prasad induced a false shot from Williamson five balls later, Sri Lanka had more or less arrived where they would have aimed to be at tea - into the New Zealand tail.
Not too long before, Williamson reached his half-century from 75 balls with a streaky boundary through the slip cordon. That, however, was one of the few times he had not been in control as he showed little sign of new-year blues. After being stuck on zero for 16 balls, he had registered his first runs of the year with consecutive boundaries off Mathews. Once he had some runs on the board, he continued to score at an effortlessly quick pace without playing expansive shots, thus going almost unnoticed during his innings. Williamson's dismissal - he played on just like Taylor and McCullum - showed that despite the ball not doing much, scoring runs was not easy on the pitch.
Quick runs were scored in the first session when the Sri Lanka bowlers couldn't find the right length. As a result, the false shots appeared only when the batsmen became ambitious. One of them accounted for Tom Latham as he played at a back of a length Lakmal delivery from round the wicket. New Zealand had scored 62 when Hamish Rutherford committed the same mistake as Latham - fishing at one away from his body - and fell after yet another start. It has been 15 innings since he scored his only half-century in Tests, but his 37 was the second-highest score on a whirlwind day.