Colombo: Tim Southee struck telling blows at either end of an absorbing fourth day's play at the P Sara Oval on Wednesday to give New Zealand a terrific start to their push for a series-leveling victory on day five. A declaration at 194 for 9 had set Sri Lanka a target of 363, but their reply started shakily as Southee and Doug Bracewell reduced the hosts to 47 for 4 when bad light forced an early stumps.
Having taken his fifth wicket early in day to help New Zealand claim the last four Sri Lankan wickets for 19 runs, Southee dismissed the home team's openers in the first seven overs of their chase. Tharanga Paranavitana departed first ball, hit in front of middle and leg by a full-length delivery, which gave Southee his sixth wicket of the match. Off the last ball of Southee's fourth over, Tillakaratne Dilshan edged behind for 14.
Bracewell then bowled Kumar Sangakkara for 16 in the 12th over when the batsman played onto his leg stump, and in his next got Mahela Jayawardene to edge to the wicketkeeper. Fading light forced the introduction of spin in the form of Jeetan Patel, but he bowled just four balls before the on-field umpires deemed the conditions too murky for play to continue.
New Zealand's new-ball pair took out Sri Lanka's top four wickets inside 14 overs to give the visitors a big chance of leveling the series on day five.
This brought to close an exciting fourth day in Colombo, which began with Southee and Trent Boult claiming the last four wickets to bundle out Sri Lanka for 244, giving New Zealand a lead of 168. Thilan Samaraweera (76) and Suraj Randiv (39) had extended their stand to 97 but that was ended early in the morning session. Boult removed the overnight pair in consecutive overs while Southee removed Nuwan Kulasekera to finish with 5 for 62. The last man out was Rangana Herath, plucked one-handed by Kane Williamson diving to his left at gully, giving Boult 4 for 42.
New Zealand's second innings began poorly. Shaminda Eranga had Martin Guptill (11) caught in the gully by Dilshan and then Herath had Brendon McCullum (35) stumped for his seventh wicket of the match. Going into lunch, New Zealand were 59 for 2 with a lead of 227 runs.
Shortly after lunch, Kulasekara struck twice in two deliveries to check New Zealand as they attempted to build a sizable lead, and two balls later Herath removed Kruger Van Wyk for a golden duck as the visitors slumped to 75 for 5. With the fifth ball of his eighth over Kulasekara had Williamson chase a wide delivery and edge to first slip for 18. The very next ball, he trapped Daniel Flynn lbw for 0. Herath then made it three wickets in four balls when van Wyk, batting on a pair, was caught at short leg for 0. That wicket took Herath back to the top of the bowlers' list for 2012, with 54 wickets to Graeme Swann's 53.
At 75 for 5, New Zealand's lead was 243 with five wickets in hand. Taylor and the debutant Todd Astle buckled down to stave off a further collapse. The pair played Herath and Randiv confidently and patiently, though Astle received two lives. On 23, Astle was dropped by Paranavitana at slip and for four runs later, was reprieved by the third umpire though replays showed his bat was in the air when Prasanna Jayawardene attempted a run out. Taylor batted with the same determination that fetched him an excellent 142 in New Zealand's first innings to take New Zealand to 154 for 5 with a lead of 315.
Post the interval, Randiv snapped a 97-run stand for the sixth wicket by having Astle caught at short midwicket for 35, sparking a second New Zealand collapse. Astle swept the ball and was caught on the rebound after the ball hit short leg's boot. In the next over, Herath removed Bracewell for 1 and then off the fifth ball Taylor was run out for 75. Patel's dismissal for 0 to Randiv prompted Taylor to declare at 194 for 9.
Defending 363, New Zealand ended the day on top with Sri Lanka four down.