Brilliant batting from Tom Latham, BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme has given the Black Caps a chance of an unlikely test victory in Sri Lanka.
A lot still needs to go New Zealand's way, but they have hope — something that didn't look likely when rain washed out the opening session of day four of the second test.
That element — the unpredictable Colombo weather — remains their greatest foe, along with a hobbled Sri Lankan batting line-up which may have to hunker down on the final day against a New Zealand bowling attack which will have renewed reason to fire.
When bad light stopped play, after the rain cleared in time to allow 48 overs on the penultimate day, the Black Caps had built a 138-run lead, largely thanks to Latham, who carried on from his 10th test century yesterday to reach 154. From 126-4, he and Watling took their side from a slightly precarious to a dominant position, with Watling unbeaten on 81 as the Black Caps reached 382-5 near the end of the day.
He was joined – and then caught - by de Grandhomme, who was not out on 83 from just 75 balls, having hit five sixes, including one which effortlessly went out of the ground and into the neighbouring houses. It was the perfect contribution, with the Black Caps having required quick runs to earn themselves a decent first-innings lead, and giving their bowlers a chance at skittling Sri Lanka on day five.
That would assume no more rain falls tomorrow, a fanciful proposition considering weather has led to reduced overs every day thus far. Even then, it would still require an unlikely set of circumstances — and multiple players producing match-winning performances — for the Black Caps to level the series.
However, they may have more than one reason to be hopeful. Sri Lanka's captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, has a tear in his quadricep, spending the entire day off the field. As a result, he's unable to bat any higher than No 7 in the order, while wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella also has been sidelined with a finger injury, leaving Sri Lanka set to be batting with a makeshift opener, two hobbled batsmen, and a relatively long tail.
Judging by the ease with which Watling and Latham combined, and de Grandhomme plundered, all it would take is good discipline and technique from the healthy Sri Lankan batsmen to play out a draw. That would see the Colombo clash become the first test in Sri Lanka to end without a victor since 2014 — a record 25 consecutive tests — while there hasn't been a draw at the P Sara Oval since 2003.
If they can't pull off an unlikely victory, the Black Caps would lose their first test series since March 2017, while a draw would also be an inauspicious start to their World Test Championship campaign, with 20 points out of a possible 120 their return from their first of seven series showdowns.
But if they can accomplish the improbable, it'll be Latham, Watling and de Grandhomme who they have to thank for producing the chance of a victory in the first place.