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Day 4 report: Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews compiled centuries and batted throughout the fourth day in an unbeaten 246-run partnership as Sri Lanka reduced the deficit against New Zealand in the first Test on Tuesday.
Mendis finished the day 116 not out, Mathews was 117 not out, and Sri Lanka was 259-3, having erased all but 37 runs of a 296-run deficit.
Sri Lanka's first-innings total was 282, and New Zealand made 578 in reply.
The twin centuries contributed to Sri Lanka's highest-ever fourth-wicket partnership against New Zealand, beating the previous best of 192, and were a coming of age for one player, and a redemption for the other.
Mendis batted 287 minutes and faced 215 balls for his sixth Test century which included 12 fours; Mathews took 342 minutes and needed 248 balls to reach his ninth with 11 fours.
By stumps, the pair had shunted back the threat of defeat which seemed imminent at the start of play when Sri Lanka was 20-3.
While the tourists still face a final day on which a minimum of 90 overs have to be bowled, giving New Zealand some hope yet of taking a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series, the achievements of Mendis and Mathews on the fourth day have left the match more closely in the balance.
The strong possibility of rain on Wednesday may further play into Sri Lanka's hands and frustrate the home side.
The 23-year-old Mendis has long been one of Sri Lanka's brightest batting prospects. He captained Sri Lanka at under-19 level and won full international selection after only 16 first-class matches in which he scored a single century.
Mendis announced his arrival on the Test stage loudly with a century on debut, a magnificent and match-changing 176 against Australia, and hinted it would not be long before he assumed a major role in the Sri Lanka middle order. But though he had five centuries and seven half-centuries in 33 Tests before this match, he had also gone through a lean patch of 24 innings without reaching 50.
His majestic innings on Tuesday not only terminated that lean patch but pointed to a new maturity. Mendis has always been an immense talent but he is also a player with a strong attacking instinct, alloyed to a finely honed repertoire of shots.
His innings showed he also has the ability to restrain that instinct in his team's interest and to play innings of character and duration.
Mathews' innings was a redemption of sorts. Only two months ago he was dropped from the Sri Lanka one day side by the now dismissed national selectors who labeled him "unfit."
When he reached his century, Mathews dropped to the pitch and knocked out a few crisp pushups as a clear riposte to those who questioned his fitness.
The Sri Lanka batsmen defied the New Zealand bowlers for a full 90 overs, starting under immense pressure as Sri Lanka — still 276 behind — tried to resist the threat of a defeat which seemed likely to come before the end of the day.
They guided Sri Lanka to 122-3 by lunch, to 197-3 at tea, and within 37 runs of New Zealand's total by stumps.
The New Zealand bowlers could find no way of disturbing their progress. There was no seam movement, no swing even in humid conditions, and no turn for the solitary spinner Ajaz Patel.
If captain Kane Williamson hoped the pitch at the Basin Reserve might offer uneven bounce with the old ball, he was disappointed. The second new ball, taken immediately after 80 overs, produced nothing to trouble batsmen who were then well settled.
"The wicket probably hasn't offered us as much as we'd like," Patel said. "But I felt that everyone gave it a good effort and everyone kept trying things and everyone really put 100 percent out there.
"We can't fault the effort but those boys batted well as well.
"The wicket is a touch on the slow side. With the seamers, there's not a lot of movement in the air or off the wicket so that makes it difficult. Batters are finding it easy once they get themselves in. And from a spin perspective, it's just not offering enough turn."
With AP inputs