By Niall Anderson at the Basin Reserve
For two straight days the Black Caps have re-written the record books – but today, they were on the wrong side of history.
For the first time in the history of cricket tests played in New Zealand, a full day went by without a wicket falling, as the Sri Lankan pair of Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews put on a batting masterclass at the Basin Reserve.
It came at a superb time for the visitors - the Black Caps were marching towards victory in the first test, but now, an incredible fightback and a bleak weather forecast looks to have rained on their parade.
After all of the twists, turns and incredible comebacks of the Pakistan series, it looked like the Black Caps' return home would produce far more formulaic tests, but Sri Lanka had other ideas.
A 246-run partnership between Mendis [116*] and Mathews [117*] lasted the entire day – it was also the first wicketless day in any test since 2008 - allowing Sri Lanka to get to stumps at 259-3, and surely denying New Zealand an expected victory.
Sure, Sri Lanka are still 37 runs behind with a day to go, but weather looks set to have the final say, with the forecast predicting steady rain for the whole day. Besides, even if it cleared – what evidence would there be to suggest the Black Caps could snap their partnership?
Still, rain would be a limp conclusion to a strangely compelling test. A day after Tom Latham sent records tumbling, Mendis and Mathews compiled the biggest partnership of all time for Sri Lanka against New Zealand, barely offering a chance in their marathon stay at the crease.
The pair displayed the type of discipline Latham had displayed in his 264, and after losing three wickets in 12 overs the night before, it was like a new wicket had been inserted overnight, such was the ease they batted with.
Mendis was the early aggressor, pulling with aplomb and negating – and angering – Neil Wagner, whose usual short-ball danger soon turned into monotonous surety as he went for 100 runs in 21 overs.
So long the Black Caps' fail-safe when their first option wasn't working, Wagner couldn't muster any chances, and his combination with a tidy Ajaz Patel couldn't repeat their heroics from the United Arab Emirates.
As Mendis slowed down, showing good discipline, Mathews stepped up. In his second resurrection of the test – having scored 83 after coming in at 9-3 in the first innings –Mathews first battened down the hatches, then also joined in on the short-ball fun – scoring the bulk of his runs via pull or hook shots.
New Zealand's bowlers couldn't even muster appeals, as session by session went by without any hope of breaking the partnership. From starting the day at 20-3, Sri Lanka reached 122-3 at lunch, then 197-3 at tea – constant, steady, easy accumulation.
By then, Mendis had brought up his sixth test hundred from 215 balls – aptly pulling away a short ball to fine leg – and Mathews similarly brought up three figures – from 248 deliveries – with a flick through mid-wicket.
After Sri Lanka had gone 11 test innings without a century, suddenly two had come along at once, and adding to New Zealand's frustration was the fact just one breakthrough could have sparked something – Sri Lanka have a long tail – but they never even got close.
Mathews celebrated his hundred with push-ups – a pointed celebration to critics of his fitness – and rightly so, as it took a powerful and indefatigable effort to deny New Zealand.
Rain would seem a harsh way to decide the test - and both teams would love to settle the back-and-forth battle on the field. But, the Black Caps were in a prime position to end it today, and Sri Lanka weathered the storm.