The Report by Andrew Fidel Fernando in Christchurch
Sri Lanka 104 and 89 for 2 (Mendis 51*, Chandimal 33*) need 571 more to beat New Zealand 178 and 585 for 4 dec (Latham 176, Nicholls 162*, de Grandhomme 71)
There are five more sessions to bat out, and rain is unlikely to rescue them this time, but in playing out a wicketless session before lunch on day four, Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal have suggested that for the second time in as many matches, Sri Lanka will not accept defeat meekly. The pair exercised substantial caution against the early swing and seam of Trent Boult and Tim Southee, defused Neil Wagner’s rib-high short balls, and towards the end of the session, had no qualms facing the gentle left-arm spin of Ajaz Patel.
Pleasingly for Sri Lanka, what juice this Hagley Oval track had had seems to have largely disappeared. There were still several plays-and-misses in the first hour, as New Zealand kept the cover area unguarded and tempted expansive drives from Mendis and Chandimal. After drinks, though, the ball had become soft, and deviation off the surface was minimal.
Mendis, in particular, grew in confidence as lunch approached, hitting five boundaries in the final half-hour of the session. One of those boundaries took him past 1000 Test runs in the calendar year, making him only the second batsman after Virat Kohli to achieve the feat. That he has got to the milestone at 23, when Kohli had himself been five years older before making his first 1000-run year, was particularly remarkable. Then another of Mendis’ fours took him beyond 50 in the innings. He went to lunch on 51 off 113 balls, while Chandimal was 33 off 136. Together the pair had made 65 off the 29 overs in the session.
Boult and Southee will perhaps feel themselves slightly unlucky to have beaten the bat on so many occasions and failed to claim a wicket, but they were perhaps not quite at their best, pitching slightly too short when the ball had still been swinging. With this surface carrying a little more pace at this stage than the Basin Reserve track had done, Kane Williamson had perhaps hoped that Neil Wagner’s bouncers would be more effective here, but Mendis and Chandimal negotiated them expertly, jiving out of the way when they were headed down the leg side, and nicely riding the bounce when Wagner sent balls at the body.
There was no spin for Ajaz as yet. And no luck for New Zealand. That Mendis looks so assured again, after having batted out the equivalent of five sessions in Wellington, will perhaps worry the hosts slightly over lunch.