Impressive knocks from almost the entirety of the Sri Lankan top order, particularlyKusal, gave Sri Lanka a promising start in their pursuit of an unlikely World Test Championship final berth, as they put up 305 for 6 on the opening day of the first Test at Hagley Oval.
However the persistence of Tim Soiutheeand Matt Henry, who picked up five wickets between them, ensured the visitors would at no point run away with proceedings.
At the close of play Dhananjaya de Silva was at the crease unbeaten on 39, with Kasum Rajitha alongside him on 16. That Rajitha is even at the crease with just six wickets down speaks towards the length of Sri Lanka's tail. Rajitha, however to his credit, has thus far provided an able foil during the 37-run stand.
The first hour or so of the morning session saw Henry and Southee beat the edge with regularity, and their relentless lines and lengths - just outside off, angled in, shaping away, off a good length - eventually paid off. Ironically, it was one drifting down leg that did the trick, as Oshada Fernando was strangled down leg.
That however brought Mendis to the crease, and Sri Lanka's approach was transformed. Carrying over his recent white-ball form, Mendis accounted for 15 of the 21 boundaries scored in the session, on the way to a 51-ball 73 at the break - he would end on 87 off 83. His partnership withDimuthKarunaratne meanwhile would yield 137.
A majority of his scoring came on the leg side, particularly behind square. Henry and Neil Wagner were punished as they looked to test the diminutive Lankan with some short stuff, while Southee and Blair Tickner were whipped in front of square for deliveries that veered a little too full or straight.
Mendis’ aggression coincided with New Zealand's seamers losing the lengths that had served them so well in the early part of the morning. They would correct this after lunch, however, and within the first hour of the second session they would see the backs of both Mendis and Karunaratne.
Mendis was surprised by one that jagged back in off a length from outside off, as he failed to offer a stroke and was struck on the back leg, while Karunaratne was out caught on a loose drive an over later, offering a thick edge to second slip.