After Angelo Mathews led Sri Lanka's fight and recovery with his 14th Test century, Matt Henry struck thrice in quick succession in the final session to keep the Christchurch Test on a knife's edge. Henry removed Niroshan Dickwella and Kasun Rajitha in the space of six overs as Sri Lanka went from 200 for 5 to 302 allout, setting New Zealand a target of 285. The home side lost Devon Conway early, and went to stumps at 28 for 1.
Conditions in the morning session appeared to ease and batters looked more comfortable despite the odd ball misbehaving and the variable bounce that the New Zealand quicks were still getting off the pitch. Blair Tickner added a fourth to his overnight tally of three scalps when he got nightwatchman Prabath Jayasuriya to feather one to the keeper early in the session. Then came the defiant 105-run fifth-wicket stand between Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal as they made the New Zealand bowlers toil hard. Tim Southee's side was hamstrung by the absence of Neil Wagner - who failed a fitness test on the fourth morning after suffering a back injury while bowling on Day 3 - while Henry didn't look 100% fit.
Mathews and Chandimal dug deep to play with a lot of resolve and concentration to slowly move New Zealand's lead ahead. They finished Day 3 having squandered all the momentum and advantage they'd built up previously, and Chandimal went about restoring some of that on the way to his ton. Chandimal, another senior batter, played similar risk-averse cricket. New Zealand's patience was thoroughly tested on a sunny morning as the duo added 67 runs to their overnight tally in 28 overs, scoring at under 3-an-over.
The second session, played at a similarly patient pace, was punctuated by Angelo Mathews's 14th Test hundred - his first in the format since May 2022. The 35-year-old embodied Sri Lanka's resolve to make a match of the fixture as their lead extended. Only the new ball agreed to dance to the bowlers' tunes and Tim Southee made full use of it. He cleaned up Chandimal with an impeccable length ball that pitched and moved away a little bit to beat the bat and hit the top of offstump. Dhananjaya de Silva arrived with a streaky intent, as he got a couple of boundaries via outside edges and had shots just falling short of fielders. He rode his luck to the Tea break, as Sri Lanka's lead went up to 233.
There was no real indication in the first two sessions that New Zealand could force a 'see-sawing' end to the day, as their bowlers began to tire through the middle session. Henry, however, came out for the final period of play with a spring in his step and dragged some of the momentum to New Zealand's corner. Mathews, batting on 115, poked at a length ball that straightened a touch and was out caught behind. Niroshan Dickwella got lured into edging a ball that nipped away from a length, while he was rooted to his crease just two overs after Mathews departed.
Kasun Rajitha aimed to put on some rear-guard resistance in the company of Dhananjaya, but was trapped leg before by Henry. Rajitha reviewed hoping the ball would stray down the leg side on replay, but he was undone by umpire's call as it showed to be clipping the leg stump. Henry just couldn't stay out of the action as he was involved in the next wicket to fall as well, running out Lahiru Kumara. The two batters dashed off four a couple of runs after Dhananjaya played the ball down the ground and Kane Williamson fired a throw to the non-striker's end. Henry, perhaps mindful of his injured right hand, only parried the ball towards the stumps instead of collecting it. He successfully deflected it onto the stumps, catching Kumara short of his crease. Southee then wrapped up the essay with the wicket of Asitha Fernando to bundle out Sri Lanka for 302, that set New Zealand a target of 385.
Against the left-handed opening pair of Tom Latham and Devon Conway, both of Sri Lanka's new-ball quicks - Asitha Fernando and Kasun Rajitha - went round the stumps to use the angle as well as deliveries that straighten after pitching and leave the batter's susceptible to an outside edge. They began accurately and put immense pressure on the New Zealand duo. Eventually, it was a scrambled seam ball from Rajitha that appeared to grip the surface a bit that earned Sri Lanka a wicket. Conway attempted a half-hearted on-drive away from his body and ended up tossing the ball back up to the bowler.
Latham and Kane Williamson played out the remaining 12 overs till stumps, with New Zealand now needing 257 more runs to win on the final day.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 355 & 302 (Angelo Mathews 115, Blair Tickner 4-100, Matt Henry 3-71) lead New Zealand 373 & 28/1 (Kasun Rajitha 1-5) by 256 runs