New Zealand broke Sri Lanka's stout resistance late on the fourth day Saturday to move closer to a win in the second Test and an historic fourth-straight series victory. (MATCH SCORECARD)
At stumps Sri Lanka were 231-6, still trailing New Zealand by 428 runs with a full day ahead, a fine forecast and with the fitness of Angelo Mathews, its leading batsman, in doubt after he retired hurt on 22.
For half the day Saturday, as Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal bravely and adeptly rallied his forces, it seemed New Zealand might again experience the fourth-day horrors that assailed them in the drawn first Test at Wellington.
On that occasion, Kusal Mendis and Mathews batted throughout the day without the loss of a wicket in a 274-run partnership which allowed Sri Lanka to draw the match when rain on the last day rewarded the determination of the batsmen.
When the first half of the day passed without a wicket on Saturday, New Zealand may have feared being the victims again of a barren fourth day. The occasion in Wellington was the first wicketless day in a Test in New Zealand and the first anywhere in the world for almost 10 years
Chandimal built a partnership of 117 with Mendis for the third wicket which began on the third day, occupied all of the first session on Saturday and stretched well into the second.
Mendis and Chandimal both reached half centuries and New Zealand must have begun to wonder whether the Sri Lanka batsmen were again going to defy them for a day, setting up the prospect of a draw.
But Mendis fell for 67 at 126-3 to a brilliant catch by substitute fielder Matt Henry off Neil Wagner, ending the 225-minute partnership.
Chandimal sought to rebuild the innings with Mathews but immediately before tea Mathews was stricken by a hamstring injury, retired hurt at 22 and was unable to return after the break. He was taken to hospital for scans which seemed to make his immediate return unlikely.
Chandimal also fell to a catch from the bowling of Wagner, who toiled doggedly throughout the day, bowling 28 overs and finishing with 3-47.
Three of the Sri Lanka batsmen fell to catches by wicketkeeper B.J. Watling who passed 200 catches in Tests.
"It was obviously tough to create any chances," Watling said. "I think we knew if we hung in there long enough, bowled some good balls, some good bumpers we could create some pressure and finally take that first wicket and get a little role on.
"It's still hard work out there now with the tailenders so a lot of work to do tomorrow."
Mathews seemed to be destined to play a critical hand in the match. He has been Sri Lanka's best batsman in the series, top-scoring with 83 in the first innings of the first Test, making an unbeaten 121 in his match-saving partnership with Mendis in the second and remaining 33 not out when Sri Lanka was dismissed for 104 in the first innings of this match.
He had made 14 from 38 balls Saturday when he drove a ball from Trent Boult wide of mid off and set off for two, running the first comfortably but pulling up on the second in obvious discomfort. He batted on until tea but could not continue.