Latham, Nicholls tons give New Zealand firm grip

Tom Latham celebrates his hundred
New Zealand v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 3rd day December 28, 2018

Sri Lanka 104 and 24 for 2 (Chandimal 14*, Mendis 6*) need 636 more to beat New Zealand 178 and 585 for 4 dec (Latham 176, Nicholls 162*, de Grandhomme 71)

New Zealand took giant strides toward wrapping up the Christchurch Test, and by extension the series, on day three, after racking up a gargantuan lead of 659. Then they removed Sri Lanka's openers in the 14 overs before stumps. Before Trent Boult and Tim Southee claimed a wicket apiece, though, it was a day of personal accolades for New Zealand's batsmen.

Tom Latham made his second mammoth score of the series, scoring 176 a week after his 264 not out in Wellington, to bring his series tally to 450. Only once has a New Zealand batsman scored more in a two-Test series (Brendon McCullum had made 535 against India in 2014, but had had the benefit of batting four innings, where Latham only had three), and only twice before have any batsmen anywhere faced more balls than Latham's 889 in a two-Test series.

Henry Nicholls capped off a breakout year with the bat with a personal best of 162 not out, bettering his previous highest score of 145. Nicholls has now scored 658 runs in 2018, but more impressively, finishes with the highest average (73.11) from among batsmen to have scored at least 350 runs this year.

Colin de Grandhomme batted himself into the record books after tea as well, bludgeoning various Sri Lanka bowlers down the ground on his way to a 28-ball fifty - a New Zealand record in Tests. As New Zealand piled on 585 for 4 before declaring late in the day, Ross Taylor ended as the only batsman to have failed to make a fifty, and even he'd got 40 off 44 balls.

With victory unthinkable - no team has ever successfully chased more than 419 - Sri Lanka are now faced with the incredibly difficult ask of batting out two entire days in order to save the Test. Even if they muster Wellington-like resistance, the Christchurch weather seems unlikely to turn in their favour.

More importantly, perhaps, this Hagley Oval deck does not look quite as dead as the one Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews had batted out an entire day on, at the Basin Reserve. At stumps, Mendis was 6 not out off 33 balls and captain Dinesh Chandimal was 14 off 42, having left and defended judiciously.

This pair will probably need to stay together for much of day four to even give the visitors a chance of pulling off a second phenomenal escape. They will be especially disappointed that Dimuth Karunaratne - the other batsman capable of batting long periods on difficult tracks - was caught behind for a duck down the legside in Trent Boult's first over.

Like the double-ton in Wellington, this Latham innings was also a grind for much of its 370-ball duration. Having begun the day on 74 not out, his first 30 balls yielded no more than eight runs. He moved to an eighth career century before lunch, but only struck two boundaries off the bat in the session.

He and Nicholls, who had also been cautious in the morning, when Sri Lanka were bowling with the second new ball, did substantially pick up the pace after lunch, however, regularly picking up singles square of the wicket, while also making sure to punish Sri Lanka's errors in line. While Latham prospered down the ground and square of the wicket on the off side, Nicholls made his runs all around the ground. A particularly memorable stroke from Nicholls was the hook in front of square off Sri Lanka's fastest bowler, Lahiru Kumara.

Sri Lanka had to take to relying on their part-time bowlers Dimuth Karunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka, after their frontliners had visibly tired, and the bowling effort was especially flat after tea, with the innings now having dragged on for over 139 overs. De Grandhomme took full advantage, launching two sixes - one each over wide long on and wide long off - as the visitors spread the field and awaited a declaration.

So powerful was de Grandhomme's striking, though, that the boundaries continued to come, as he beat men in the deep. Nicholls scored quickly in his company as well, cruising past 150. Together the pair made 124 runs off 87 balls before captain Kane Williamson finally declared the innings.

Boult struck with the last ball of his first over, before Tim Southee claimed a wicket in his first over as well, getting Gunathilaka to nick off attempting an expansive off drive. Out for four in this innings, Gunathilaka has not made it out of single figures in the series.

Mendis and Chandimal then soberly gritted out the remaining 12.1 overs. Mendis did not get off the mark until his 16th ball, and Chandimal - who is yet to make a significant batting contribution in the series - made it a point only to hit the balls that were heading toward the stumps.

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