Sri Lanka’s Thilan Samaraweera hit a solid 159 before skipper Daniel Vettori inspired a New Zealand comeback in the first cricket Test in Galle on Wednesday.
Samaraweera’s third Test century this year after two monumental double centuries in Pakistan in February helped Sri Lanka pile up 452 in their first innings by tea on the rain-curtailed second day.
The Black Caps responded bravely to the challenge by going to stumps at 87-2, with left-handed opener Tim McIntosh unbeaten on 36 and nightwatchman Jeetan Patel on six.
Martin Guptill and McIntosh raced to an opening stand of 45 in 10 overs before Guptill dragged a ball from Thilan Thushara on to his wicket after making 24.
Ajantha Mendis then bowled Daniel Flynn for 14, but Patel and McIntosh saw out the day with New Zealand still needing 166 runs to avoid the follow-on on a good batting.
Sri Lanka appeared to be running away with the match before the experienced Vettori stepped in to stage a New Zealand revival.
The left-arm spinner grabbed four wickets as Sri Lanka, 386-4 at one stage, lost six batsmen for 66 runs — the last four for eight runs — in a dramatic post-lunch session.
Vettori finished with 4-78 to take his career tally to 297 wickets and now needs just three more to become only the ninth player in Test history to achieve the double of 3,000 runs and 300 wickets. Just 13 overs were bowled in the morning session after heavy rain delayed the start by two hours, and Sri Lanka moved from their overnight score of 293-3 to 328-4 by lunch.
Umpires Daryl Harper and Nigel Llong pushed back the lunch break by an hour to make up for lost time when the skies finally cleared.
The first day’s play had seen just 78 overs of the stipulated 90 due to bad weather.
The Kiwis dismissed century-maker Mahela Jayawardene in a brief period of play before lunch, caught at first slip by Ross Taylor off Iain O’Brien in the day’s second over.