Rain rewarded the persistence and determination of batsmen Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews, washing out most of the final day of the first cricket Test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand on Wednesday to allow Sri Lanka to claim a well-earned draw. After batting through all of the fourth day in a historic partnership in which both made centuries, Mendis and Mathews survived just under an hour _ all the rain allowed Wednesday _ to ensure the two-Test series remains level ahead of the second Test at Christchurch from Dec. 26.
Mendis and Mathews came together near stumps on the third day when Sri Lanka was 13-3 in its second innings after trailing by 296 on the first innings in which New Zealand made 578 in reply to its 282. They were still together more than a day later when heavy rain forced the abandonment of play on the final day. Sri Lanka’s third wicket had fallen in the seventh over and at the close of play Mendis and Mathews had just faced the 115th over of Sri Lanka’s innings.
Mendis was 141 not out, Mathews was 121 not out and the pair had put on 274 runs _ the best for the fourth wicket by a Sri Lanka pair against New Zealand _ to leave Sri Lanka only nine runs short of making New Zealand bat again.
On their way to a match-saving partnership, Mendis and Mathew became the first batsmen to bat throughout a full day of a Test in New Zealand without a wicket to fall, and the first to do so anywhere in the world in almost a decade.
Their innings and partnership came at significant moments in both careers. Mendis made an outstanding beginning in his Test career with scores of 176 against Australia, 194 and 196 against Bangladesh and 102 against the West Indies within his first 25 Tests.
But he had only two half centuries in his next 15 innings and, while his talent was never doubted, there had been questions over whether he could prosper in Tests on raw talent alone. He answered that question resoundingly at the Basin Reserve with an innings of patience, determination and pure technique.
Mendis said after the fourth day he took inspiration from Mathews who showed he was willing to be take the ball on his body rather than surrender his wicket.
“(Mathews) got hit twice on the body and he came up to me and told me `hit the ball somehow, even if it has to be with your body’. When I saw him playing like that, I also thought `there’s no way I’m giving away my wicket’.”
When rain stopped play Wednesday, Mathews had batted 7-1/2 hours and Mendis eight minutes more to change the course of the Test.
“We showed a lot of character throughout the five days,” Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal said. “It’s not an easy task when the opposition get a lead of almost 300.
“(Mathews) has done really well in the last four or five five-day games. He’s an experienced player and every time he goes to bat we want some runs from him. He and Kusal Mendis were outstanding.”
New Zealand was frustrated that rain ruined their push for a 1-0 series lead Wednesday.
“The forecast wasn’t too good,” captain Kane Williamson said. “It would have been nice to pick up two or three wickets yesterday but it wasn’t to be. Sri Lanka played very well and showed the character we know they have.”