CHRISTCHURCH: Kusal Mendis made a lively 87 off 83 balls to put tourists Sri Lanka in the driving seat at 305-6 after the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand on Thursday.
At the close, Dhananjaya de Silva was unbeaten on 39 with Kasun Rajitha contributing 16 to an unbroken seventh wicket stand of 35.
New Zealand captain Tim Southee won the toss in Christchurch, where conditions were ripe for his seam attack to strike, but instead it was Sri Lanka’s band of classy batsmen who dominated.
It is a must-win Test for Sri Lanka to keep their World Test Championship hopes alive but veteran batsman Angelo Mathews said Mendis attacked as if he was playing an explosive game of Twenty20.
“He just walked straight into it and it was like a Twenty20 game,” Mathews said.
“In those conditions the way that he batted, it was more than a run a ball and it was quiet fantastic to watch.”
New Zealand captain Tim Southee believed the momentum swung when Mendis was in full flight before lunch, taking Sri Lanka to a healthy 120-1 at the interval after being 14-1 in the seventh over when Oshada Fernando (13) was dismissed.
“We were a little bit off in that second hour and credit to Sri Lanka,” he said.
“The put loose deliveries away and scored at a good clip and got themselves out in front of the game at lunchtime.”
– Southee record –
It was heavily overcast and the floodlights were on, but Sri Lanka’s second-wicket pair of Dimuth Karunaratne and Mendis racked a rollicking 137 off 27 overs, with Mendis belting 16 fours while Karunaratne contributed 50 off 87.
Mendis rode his luck, with some inside and top edges helping him reach a 16th Test fifty off just 40 balls.
He was looking for his eighth Test century but, with the score on 151, he was trapped in front by Southee to end a sparkling innings.
When Karunaratne followed without any addition to the total, caught at second slip for 50 by Tom Latham off Matt Henry, Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal put on 82 for the fourth wicket to lift Sri Lanka to 233-4.
Chandimal had negotiated some interruptions for rain to reach 39 when he became Southee’s 362nd Test wicket, moving the New Zealand captain past Daniel Vettori to second on the all-time list of New Zealand’s Test wicket-takers behind Richard Hadlee, who has 431.
It was a New Zealand record 706th international wicket for Southee across all three formats, one more than the previous mark he shared with Vettori.
Mathews drove Matt Henry to mid-on for two to reach the milestone of 7,000 Test runs, but he barely had time to acknowledge the achievement before he was dismissed next ball for 47.
Niroshan Dickwella went cheaply for seven before de Silva and Rajitha regained momentum for Sri Lanka.
Southee was the pick of the New Zealand bowlers with 3-44 while Henry chipped in with 2-65.