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Mendis and Mathews lead Sri Lankan fightback with remarkable partnership

Report: Day 5, 1st Test, Sri Lanka tour of New Zealand, 2018-19

Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis batted through the entire fourth day at Wellington to steer Sri Lanka to a much safer position in the opening Test, taking the visitors to 259/3.

In doing so, they added an unbroken mammoth 246 for the fourth wicket and overtook the highest partnership for any wicket in Tests for Sri Lanka against New Zealand.

At stumps, Mendis was unbeaten on 116 and former captain Mathews was not out on 117.

Sri Lanka were staring down the barrel of an innings defeat inside four days, when Mathews joined Mendis at the crease late on day three with the score at 13/3.

Although the pair managed to safely negotiate the remaining overs until stumps, few pundits would have predicted that Sri Lanka will survive day four.

On a pitch that was increasingly devoid of life or any assistance to the bowlers, Sri Lanka managed not only to survive but also thrive.

Mendis began the day in sparkling fashion, driving Blackcaps paceman Neil Wagner down the ground, when he pitched on a fuller length, and pulled with aplomb when he bowled short.

With exquisite timing and flair, the 23-year-old took the lunch break with 65 under his belt. Mathews, on the other hand, was more circumspect getting to 35, preferring to defend the short ball and play it along the ground.

Following the lunch break, they switched roles. Mathews appeared to come out of his shell, taking on the short ball and playing with more freedom.

Wagner in particular was becoming frustrated with his fruitless attempts to break the partnership, and was warned for excessive short-pitched bowling.

Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson turned to the spin of Ajaz Patel, who occasionally managed to trouble the pair with turn and bounce, but like the rest of the bowlers, he too struggled to coax enough life out of the wicket.

Patel’s figures read 0-46 from 26 overs, while Wagner conceded 0-100 from his 21 overs.

Around tea time, Mendis was in an unenviable position on 98 but calmly reached his ton with a boundary pulled down to fine-leg.

Angelo Mathews celebrates reaching his century against New Zealand on day 4 of the 1st Test

With New Zealand taking the new ball, Mathews took the opportunity to accelerate the scoring rate and reached his ton in rapid time.

Mathews sent a less than subtle message to the head coach Chandika Hathurusingha by doing a series of pushups in a muted but cheeky celebration upon reaching three figures.

The previous selection panel headed by Graeme Labrooy and Hathurusingha had earlier omitted Mathews, who is one of Sri Lanka’s most-prolific ODI batsmen, from the One-Day side and publicly criticised Mathews’s run-out record and fitness in a press conference.

Mathews’s celebration was a sign that he is in more than passable shape.

In the last hour of play, both batsmen tired, and after passing the 200-run stand, the game reached something of a stalemate.

Both the fieldsmen and the opposing batsmen had run completely out of energy. That didn’t stop the proactive Williamson from trying to get a breakthrough, on a day where New Zealand had no clear cut chances and did not use a single review.

Williamson brought opening bowler Jeet Raval on for the last over in a desperate attempt to induce a false shot, but he was calmly seen out by Mathews — Sri Lanka ended the days only 37 runs behind New Zealand.

© Island Cricket

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