Mendis, Mathews defy NZ with epic stand to give Sri Lanka hope

Wednesday, 19 December 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 Sri Lanka’s Kusal Mendis celebrates reaching his century (100 runs) during day four of the first Test cricket match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on 18 December - AFP

Sri Lanka’s batsman Angelo Mathews celebrates reaching his century (100 runs) during day four of the first Test cricket match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on 18 December - AFP

WELLINGTON, AFP: Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews celebrated with push-ups on the pitch after joining Kusal Mendis in passing 100 yesterday as the pair batted the whole day without losing a wicket to offer the tourists hope of an unlikely first Test draw in Wellington. 

Mendis was 116 not out at stumps on day four and Mathews 117, with their record-breaking unbroken 246-run partnership setting a Sri Lankan record against New Zealand. 

It was also the first time in New Zealand that a full day’s play has been completed without a Test wicket falling and the first time anywhere since South Africa achieved the feat against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2008. 

The pair’s epic vigil meant the tourists ended the day at 259 for three after starting in a seemingly hopeless position with three wickets down for just 20 in their second innings after conceding a first innings deficit of 296 to New Zealand. 

Sri Lanka still need a further 37 to avoid an innings defeat but with a flat pitch offering nothing to New Zealand’s seam attack and rain threatening on the final day, a draw is now a real prospect. 

New Zealand had hoped to wrap up the match early on the fourth day after posting an imposing 578 in the first innings, anchored by Tom Latham’s unbeaten 264 – which eclipsed England captain Alastair Cook’s record 244, set just under a year ago in Melbourne, to become the highest score by an opener carrying their bat in Test history. 

However, the home bowlers grew increasingly frustrated by the stubborn rear-guard action, resorting to a barrage of bouncers that failed to rattle the batsmen. 

A defiant Mathews sent them a message that he still has plenty left in the tank with his push-up celebration late in the final session. 

Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake said before play commenced that his side needed to approach the final two days session-by-session and try to chip away at New Zealand’s lead. 

Mendis, who made only two in the first innings, initially took a more positive approach and went after short-ball specialist Neil Wagner. 

He blasted four boundaries off Wagner in an entertaining period that saw the paceman concede 35 runs in four overs before captain Kane Williamson ended his spell. 

After the brief flourish with the bat, Mendis was content to put up the shutters to slow the scoring to a crawl. 

Mathews, 31, who top-scored for Sri Lanka with 83 in the first innings, eked out his ninth Test century off 248 balls, while Mendis brought up his sixth Test ton off 215 deliveries. 

The partnership will be a huge boost for Sri Lanka, ranked sixth in the world, who have won only one Test match in Wellington in five attempts. 

They have also lost their last five Tests against New Zealand and suffered a 3-0 Test series whitewash against England last month.