GALLE, Sri Lanka (AP) — Captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne scored half-centuries Saturday to put Sri Lanka in a strong position in the first test against New Zealand, reaching 133-0 in its second innings at stumps on Day 4.
Chasing 268 runs to win, Sri Lanka needs 135 more runs on the final day after its impressive start to an unlikely run chase. The fourth innings winning total at Galle stands at only 99.
Karunaratne was on 71, his 23rd test half-century, when play was stopped early in the final session for bad light with 13 more overs left. He faced 168 deliveries and hit only two boundaries. Thirimanne scored his first half-century in 12 innings and remained unbeaten on 57 with four boundaries.
The New Zealand spin bowlers could not get the expected benefits from the Galle pitch, despite bowling 39 out of 50 overs in the innings. They went close at times, including Karunaratne surviving a stumping chance on 58 off William Somerville
Sri Lanka coach Rumesh Ratnayake said batting was challenging despite the score.
"Even though we are 133 for no loss it was really, really hard work," he said.
"If somebody told me you are getting to chase 268 I'd take it any day. But this 268 is huge, it is not easy. We may look pretty today ... but it is another day tomorrow, it is a hard day tomorrow."
Somerville said the game could swing back in New Zealand's favor.
"They stuck to their plan really well, they had a bit of luck along the way," he said of the Sri Lanka openers.
"Keep fighting tomorrow, we will try and take some wickets. Certainly if you are still in the game things can happen very quickly here, we know that historically."
The Black Caps were earlier bowled out for 285 in their second innings after struggling on 124-6. Their lower order rallied around B.J Watling to rescue the team from a precarious position.
Watling shared a 54-run partnership with Tim Southee and added 46 runs with Somerville.
New Zealand's tail-enders then put on 36 and 25 runs for the ninth and 10th wickets, respectively, in an impressive show of defiance.
The match started 50 minutes late on the fourth day because of a wet outfield.
Sri Lanka was bowled out for 267 in its first innings on Friday with a narrow 18-run lead over New Zealand, which scored 249 in its first innings.
Watling was out for 77 on the fourth morning after Sri Lanka called up Lahiru Kumara to bowl, and the batsman edged an outswinger to wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella.
Watling faced 173 deliveries and hit six boundaries.
Trent Boult made a useful 26 while Somerville remained unbeaten on 40, his highest first class score.
Left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya took 4-99 while Dhananjaya de Silva had 3-25. Kumara picked up two wickets.