New Zealand's batsmen will need to pass a searching examination from Sri Lanka's spinners on day three after the Tim Southee-inspired tourists scrapped their way back in to the first cricket test in Galle.
New Zealand batsmen Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson will resume at 5.30pm today on 35-1 in their second innings, an overall lead of nine runs after a gripping second day at Galle International Stadium.
The tourists suffered a blow just before stumps in fading light when first innings top scorer Brendon McCullum (13) tried one big shot too many, a loose hook at spinner Rangana Herath which was caught in the deep.
It gave the left-arm tweaker his sixth wicket for the match, having bamboozled the tourists on day one after New Zealand won the toss and eyed a total of 400.
Much will depend on New Zealand captain and key batsman Ross Taylor who played a poor shot in the first innings to be dismissed for nine.
But they at least have some hope if they bat well today, having looked down and out on day one.
Southee (4-46) deserved most of the plaudits for his devastating opening spell that crippled Sri Lanka's reply to New Zealand's disappointing first innings of 221.
Having snared debut opener Dimuth Karunaratne, third ball on the first evening, Southee ripped through Sri Lanka's top order with a seven-over spell of 3-18 in helpful swing bowling conditions.
Hard on the heels of his 7-64 - the sixth-best test return by a New Zealand bowler - in their previous test against India in Bangalore in September, this cemented Southee's place as the team's undisputed pace spearhead. It was some comeback from a bowler who was dropped after the first test against South Africa in March.
"I've had some very poor tests in the last couple of years so it's good to be back in the test side this year and taking wickets," Southee said.
"I'm trying to make the most of it and continue learning about different conditions in these parts of the world."
Southee said former Sri Lankan left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas, who is working with New Zealand on this tour, had been helpful in passing on tips for bowling on a pitch which is not generally suited for swing bowling.
"He's got a lot of knowledge of playing in these conditions and he's fitted into the environment very well. He's had a lot to offer."
As the mercury rose in Galle, Southee kept charging in at hostile pace, swinging the ball away at a full length and keeping doubt in the batsmen's minds. When Trent Boult chimed in by nicking out key man Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka were a scarcely believable 20-4.
Southee's orthodox outswing did most of the damage but he produced some reverse to remove Thilan Samaraweera, not offering a shot. That made it 50-5 and New Zealand were eyeing a handy first innings lead.
The heat and some resolute batting wore the New Zealand bowlers down as it became a tense scrap for the first innings advantage.
Captain Mahela Jayawardene and his deputy, Angelo Mathews, added 156 for the sixth wicket as the bowlers tired. Southee needed a rest and the backup cast didn't pose a huge threat with the old ball, particularly Doug Bracewell who was too short and wide.
The unlikely figure of all-rounder James Franklin made the big breakthrough, enticing a false shot from Mathews on 79. Sri Lanka lost their last five wickets for 41 as off-spinner Jeetan Patel got into the game after 16 wicketless overs.
He ended with 3-55 off 23, with Jayawardene the big scalp when he lobbed a bat-pad chance to diving gloveman Kruger van Wyk, nine runs short of his 32nd test century.
Sri Lanka limped to 247 all out as Boult took the final wicket with his second delivery with the second new ball.
Southee didn't add to his four wickets and ended with a still excellent 4-46 off 18.
"After a disappointing batting effort in the first innings the bowlers had to step up and get us into the game," Southee said. "I think we did an outstanding job and got the game back to even and hopefully we can put some runs on the board. "If we can bat all day (today) it will go along way toward setting up a good second innings score." Southee said that once the new ball was negotiated, and batsmen had got themselves in, it was a good pitch to bat on.
- Fairfax Media