(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –Kusal Mendis was approaching a defiant century at tea as Sri Lanka fought to avoid an innings defeat to New Zealand in the first Test in Wellington on Tuesday.
Mendis was unbeaten on 98 and strike partner Angelo Mathews 75 not out as the tourists went into the break on 197 for three in their second innings after surviving the first two sessions of day four without loss.
Sri Lanka still need 99 runs to make New Zealand bat again after the hosts made a mammoth 578 in the first innings, anchored by opener Tom Latham’s unbeaten 264.
The Black Caps had hoped to wrap up the Test match early after Sri Lanka’s top order collapsed late Monday, only for Mendis and Mathews to embark on an unlikely rescue mission.
Their unbroken partnership was worth 184 runs and offered Sri Lanka a glimmer of hope they can bat long enough to salvage a draw.
Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake said before play commenced that his side needed to approach the final two days session-by-session and try to chip away at New Zealand’s lead.
Mendis, who made only two in the first innings, initially took a more positive approach and went after short-ball specialist Neil Wagner.
He blasted four boundaries off Wagner in an entertaining period that saw the paceman concede 35 runs in four overs before captain Kane Williamson ended his spell.
After the brief flourish with the bat, Mendis was content to put up the shutters slow the scoring to a crawl.
He brought up his eighth half century before lunch and Mathews followed with his 33rd Test 50 in the second session.
Sri Lanka, ranked sixth in the world, have won only one Test match in Wellington in five attempts.
They have also lost their last five Tests against New Zealand and suffered a 3-0 Test series whitewash against England last month.
The tourists have faced upheaval in their coaching and selection ranks in recent weeks and arrived in New Zealand low on confidence.
In contrast, the fourth-ranked Black Caps entered the two-match contest buoyed by their first away Test series win over Pakistan in 49 years.
The New Zealanders are looking for a fourth straight Test series win after also defeating England and the West Indies in the past 12 months.
Couretsy : AFP