A frustrating final two sessions in the Colombo gloom left New Zealand still in control of the second cricket test against Sri Lanka but unable to ram home their advantage on day three.
A defiant Thilan Samaraweera stood firm on 76 not out, adding an unbroken 97 for the seventh wicket with Suraj Randiv (34 not out) as Sri Lanka reached 225-6 when bad light forced an early close at P Sara Oval.
They'd avoided the follow-on and trailed New Zealand by 187 on the first innings, with two days to play.
A solitary wicket fell in the truncated final two sessions of day three and reiterated how tough it would be to bowl a team out twice in such docile pitch conditions.
For the third time in as many tests, New Zealand spearhead Tim Southee (4-51) inspired the troops with some blistering spells. Now the question looms, can he bowl them to an overdue test victory in hostile climes?
The 23-year-old, having rocked Sri Lanka's top-order on the second evening, produced more magic under leaden skies in sweltering Colombo. A double strike before lunch to remove Tharanga Paranavitana (40) and Angelo
Mathews (47) in the space of seven deliveries turned the tide back the Black Caps' way.
But even average batsmen can look handy at P Sara. It was hard work all the way down the order as Sri Lanka crawled along at slower pace than New Zealand's batsmen but didn't fold.
New Zealand will want to set Sri Lanka at least 350 to win and Southee, in the form of his career, will be the key man.
His new ball partner Boult looks next most likely to break through while spin duo Jeetan Patel and debutant Todd
Astle toiled largely in vain and will hope for more turn and variable bounce on day five. Patel took a solitary wicket to a false sweep from Prasanna Jayawardene, New Zealand's only success of the middle session.
Again yesterday, Southee took the pitch out of the equation with an outswinger on an impeccable line that tested the batsmen's patience, and the occasional one that angled in.
In the heat and cloying humidity, Southee lifted himself for another effort as Paranavitana and Mathews added a pesky 90 after Sri Lanka were 12-3. He found the edge of both players' bats; Mathews removed by a stunning, diving grab by Martin Guptill at second slip.
The opener might be experiencing a lean trot with the bat but he remains one of the world's best fielders.
It was New Zealand's moment of the series and finally had them believing that a test victory, after five awful defeats, was within their grasp.
Captain Ross Taylor gave debutant Astle several overs in tandem with Patel and he bowled some useful deliveries, including one which could have provided his first test wicket.
On 40, Samaraweera tried a late cut but edged it low to Taylor's right at first slip. It was very tough, but it went down as a chance, Taylor's second miss of the innings.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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