Galle: Mahela Jayawardena cracked an impressive 91 to lead Sri Lanka's fightback on an absorbing second day of the opening Test against New Zealand in Galle on Sunday.
Sri Lanka were in deep trouble at 50-5 following fast bowler Tim Southee's three-wicket burst in the morning before posting 247 in their first innings in reply to New Zealand's 221.
The tourists reached 35-1 in their second innings at stumps after losing hard-hitting opener Brendon McCullum, caught by Nuwan Kulasekara off left-arm spinner Rangana Herath who was pressed into the attack after three overs.
The match is evenly poised at this stage, with New Zealand nine runs ahead with as many wickets in hand.
Skipper Jayawardena and vice-captain Angelo Mathews (79) earlier propped up the innings with a 156-run stand for the sixth wicket.
"It's very even at the moment. At one stage this morning it looked like we were quite away behind the game, but a brilliant fightback by Mahela and Angelo got us right into the game," said Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford.
"We would have been certainly happy for a bigger lead but again you can't be greedy when you are 20-4 and 50-5. Credit to New Zealand who bowled fantastically well up front, particularly with the new ball."
The hosts looked like gaining a big lead when they reached 206-5 but lost their last five wickets, including those of well-set Jayawardene and Mathews, for 41 runs.
The tourists, who went wicketless in the afternoon, came back strongly to take five wickets in the last session, with off-spinner Jeetan Patel striking three times to finish with 3-55.
"After a disappointing batting effort in the first innings, the bowlers had to step up and get us back into the game. It's an inexperienced bowling attack and we did an outstanding job," said Southee, who finished with 4-46.
"It was swinging this morning, so we put it in the right areas. I think we deserved those early wickets. Sri Lanka bounced back with a very strong partnership between Mathews and Mahela.
"It's even going into day three, so hopefully we can put some runs on the board and apply some pressure in the second innings."
Jayawardene looked set to complete his 32nd Test century when he was caught behind while trying to sweep Patel. He hit one six and 11 fours in his 176-ball knock.
Mathews fell soon after the tea-break, caught by wicket-keeper Kruger van Wyk off seamer James Franklin after hitting one six and 12 fours in his 154-ball knock.
Jayawardene and Mathews defied the tourists' attack for more than a session with their sensible batting, confidently gathering runs against both pace and spin.
The New Zealand fast bowlers exploited the morning conditions well as they took four wickets in the opening hour to put the hosts under pressure, with Southee grabbing three and Trent Boult one.
Southee dismissed Tharanga Paranavitana and nightwatchman Suraj Randiv in his opening two overs before accounting for Thilan Samaraweera, while Boult got a big wicket when he had Kumar Sangakkara (five) caught by McCullum at third slip.
Story first published on: Sunday, 18 November 2012 18:07 IST