Balmy conditions welcomed players at the Galle International Stadium with the majestic Galle Fort overlooking the picturesque venue. After a rain-curtailed first day, the Sri Lankan weather was a lot more accommodating on Thursday.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the New Zealand side and especially Ajaz Patel, weren’t as accommodating. Patel derailed the Lankan innings with five for 76 after the visitors posted a sub-par total of 249.
In response, the Lankans did themselves no favours, ending the day at 227/7, 22 runs shy of the opposition total.
It could have been a lot worse for Sri Lanka as they found themselves in a precarious position having lost seven wickets with 161 on the board. But Suranga Lakmal (28 not out) and Niroshan Dickwella (39 not out) displayed great composure and grit to push towards a vital first innings lead.
Earlier, Ross Taylor who is usually prolific with the cut shot saw it become his kryptonite, getting New Zealand off to the worst start possible on day two.
The veteran Kiwi looked reassured on the opening day but lasted just one ball as Lakmal got one to rise just a tad on Taylor, taking the outside edge en route to Dickwella.
With the well-set Taylor gone and the scoreboard reading 205 for six, it was a matter of how long the Kiwi tail could wag. With New Zealand’s lower order (7-11) average being 23.15, the highest among all Test playing nations, a reasonable resistance was expected, and it did come.
Mitchell Santner saw out the spinners with some aplomb on Wednesday but looked edgy on Thursday and misjudged Lakmal’s in-swinger and was caught plumb in front for 13 off 42 deliveries.
Thereafter, Tim Southee, William Somerville, and Trent Boult all fought fire with fire and gathered 44 crucial runs on a Galle pitch that is known to start deteriorating from the second day of a Test.
Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne came into some decent form during the World Cup and the left-hander picked up from where he left off with some exquisite stroke-play. His opening partner Lahiru Thirimanne also looked stable until he lost concentration and tried an expansive stroke, only to be stumped by BJ Watling, handing Patel his first wicket.
Just as Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis began to stitch a partnership, the former fell prey to Patel. It was set up well as the Kiwi spinner got the ball to go through with the angle leaving Karunaratne stuck on his back foot.
The early blows did little to deter the spirit of Kusal Mendis and the incoming Angelo Mathews. Working the spin duo of Patel and Somerville with guile, the Sri Lankan pair put on 77 valuable runs.
Just as nerves in the home dressing room settled, Kusal Mendis prodded at one outside off and Taylor made no mistake at first slip. New Zealand went into the tea break the more content of the two sides having reduced the Lankan Lions to 143/3.
The local crowd were silenced when play resumed with Sri Lankan losing four wickets and scoring just 18 runs. Trent Boult first sent Kusal Perera packing before Patel completed his five-fer with the dismissals of Dhananjaya de Silva and the well-set Mathews.
But the beauty of Test cricket is that it usually finds a way to bring about parity as it did with Dickwella and Lakmal inching to an unbeaten partnership of 66.
If the current trend is anything to go by, day three also promises to be a slug-fest with both sides looking to wrest the initiative in a finely poised see-saw battle.