Stumps Sri Lanka 305 for 6 (Mendis 87, Karunaratne 50, Southee 3-44) vs New Zealand
Impressive knocks from almost the entirety of the Sri Lankan top order, particularly Kusal Mendis
, gave Sri Lanka a promising start in their pursuit of an unlikely World Test Championship final berth, as they put up 305 for 6 on the opening day of the first Test at Hagley Oval. However the persistence of Tim Southee
and Matt Henry, who picked up five wickets between them, ensured the visitors would at no point run away with proceedings.
At the close of play Dhananjaya de Silva
was at the crease unbeaten on 39, with Kasun Rajitha
alongside him on 16. That Rajitha is even at the crease with just six wickets down speaks towards the length of Sri Lanka's tail. Rajitha, however to his credit, has thus far provided an able foil during the 37-run stand.
The first hour or so of the morning session saw Henry and Southee beat the edge with regularity, and their relentless lines and lengths - just outside off, angled in, shaping away, off a good length - eventually paid off. Ironically, it was one drifting down leg that did the trick, as Oshada Fernando was strangled down leg.
That however brought Mendis to the crease, and Sri Lanka's approach was transformed. Carrying over his recent white-ball form, Mendis accounted for 15 of the 21 boundaries scored in the session, on the way to a 51-ball 73 at the break - he would end on 87 off 83. His partnership with Dimuth Karunaratne
meanwhile would yield 137.
A majority of his scoring came on the leg side, particularly behind square. Henry and Neil Wagner were punished as they looked to test the diminutive Lankan with some short stuff, while Southee and Blair Tickner were whipped in front of square for deliveries that veered a little too full or straight.
There were a few dicey cuts over gully as well, but Mendis' only genuine moment of peril came when he was yet to get off the mark. A ball nipping back off a good length had seen him struck in front of middle on the back pad. The umpire felt this was hitting middle and off, but DRS showed the ball bouncing over the stumps - something neither the New Zealand players nor on-air commentators could quite believe.
Mendis' aggression coincided with New Zealand's seamers losing the lengths that had served them so well in the early part of the morning. They would correct this after lunch, however, and within the first hour of the second session they would see the backs of both Mendis and Karunaratne.
Mendis was surprised by one that jagged back in off a length from outside off, as he failed to offer a stroke and was struck on the back leg, while Karunaratne was out caught on a loose drive an over later, offering a thick edge to second slip.
While the pair were at the crease Sri Lanka had been cantering along at nearly five an over, however the scoring rate slowed a touch once Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal set about their rebuild.
Both underwent testing periods, with New Zealand's battery of seamers teasing both edges of the bat. However the pair remained unflustered, and once the bowlers began to tire, the runs began to flow - much like in the morning session.
The pair of Blair Tickner and Daryl Mitchell in particular afforded the Lankans a degree of comfort, and in the final over before tea Chandimal took full advantage with three consecutive boundaries - the first an uppercut over the slip corden, and then two consecutive off-drives.
Following a brief rain stoppage at the start of the final session, Mathews and Chandimal proceeded to push the scoring at around four an over, but the hosts would strike back one final time.
Chandimal would be the first to fall, edging a drive into the slips - a rare slip in an otherwise disciplined innings. Mathews would stay a bit longer alongside Dhananjaya, before he too edged one to first slip, one ball after becoming the third Sri Lankan to reach 7,000 Test runs.
When Niroshan Dickwella was trapped leg before shortly after, going for a sweep off the part-time off spin of Michael Bracewell, it looked like Sri Lanka had thrown away their enterprising start. But Dhananjaya and Rajitha have ensured that it was just about Sri Lanka's day.