WELLINGTON: Sri Lanka battled to a rain-affected draw in the first Test against New Zealand on Wednesday after the Black Caps were unable to break an epic stand by Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews.
The tourists were 287 for three in their second innings — still nine runs away from an innings defeat — when the umpires called time with only 13 overs bowled on the final day.
Mendis was unbeaten on 141 and Mathews 120 not out at stumps after a stubborn 274-run stand that, along with the weather, allowed Sri Lanka to salvage a draw.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson was left to rue missed opportunities after controlling the match for three days then failing to land a killer blow.
“Obviously it’s a shame to have the weather around today because we felt if we could pick up a wicket and get into their lower order, there was still very much a chance of a result,” he said.
New Zealand’s early dominance was built on a mammoth 578 in the first innings, featuring an unbeaten 264 from Tom Latham.
The left-hander’s career-best effort overhauled former England captain Alastair Cook’s 244 as the highest score by an opener carrying their bat in Test history.
The emphatic performance should have given the New Zealand bowlers two full days to attack a Sri Lanka line-up that showed little fight in the first innings, but Mathews and Mendis responded with a masterclass of their own.
‘Lots of character’
The pair came together late on day three with Sri Lanka reeling at 13 for three in their second dig, trailing New Zealand’s first inning total by 296.
They batted through the whole of day four, fending off a barrage of bouncers from the New Zealanders.
“Both boys out there showed a lot of character,” said skipper Dinesh Chandimal. “They fought hard when the situations came.”
It was the only time in New Zealand that a full day’s play has been completed without a Test wicket falling, and the first time anywhere since South Africa achieved the feat against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2008. The partnership was also a Sri Lankan record against the Black Caps.
The draw snaps Sri Lanka’s four-Test losing streak against the Black Caps on New Zealand soil.
It will give the world’s sixth-ranked team confidence after they arrived in New Zealand smarting from a 3-0 Test whitewash against England last month. They have also had to contend with disarray in their coaching and selection ranks. The fourth-ranked Black Caps entered the two-match contest buoyed by their first away Test series win over Pakistan in 49 years.
They are looking for a fourth straight Test series win after also defeating England and the West Indies in the past 12 months.
The second and final Test begins on December 26 in Christchurch, where the tourists have not won in three attempts. Williamson did not expect the Christchurch pitch to flatten out as it did in Wellington, offering more for his seamers.
Chandimal said his team had benefitted from a hit-out in New Zealand conditions but needed to improve on the slow starts they made in Wellington.
“When we were batting we lost three early wickets in both innings and when we were bowling we couldn’t get early wickets,” he said.
“So that’s an area we’ll have to improve as a team… we’ve got a lot of youngsters in our side, so I’m sure they will learn and execute their plans.”