Tom Latham, Dhananjaya de Silva hundreds headline exciting day

Tom Latham plays down the ground during his century
Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 2nd Test, P Sara Oval, 3rd day August 24, 2019

New Zealand 196 for 4 (Latham 111*, Dilruwan 2-76) trail Sri Lanka 244 (De Silva 109, Southee 4-63, Boult 3-75) by 48 runs

A compact century from Tom Latham and a more adventurous one from Dhananjaya de Silva headlined an absorbing day of cricket at Colombo's P Sara Oval. De Silva's 109 off 148 balls - 77 of them came today, off 86 balls, in the company of the tail - carried Sri Lanka to 244 and seemingly a position of strength, but Latham did well to stand up to their spin barrage even as the track showed signs of breaking up. The left-hander forged a crucial, unbroken 70-run stand with BJ Watling and trimmed the deficit to 48 at stumps on day three.

This was Latham's tenth Test hundred; only John Wright (12) has more among New Zealand Test openers. Watling, meanwhile, surpassed his former captain Brendon McCullum to become the leading run-getter among New Zealand Test wicketkeepers.

Both Kane Williamson (20) and Ross Taylor (23) nicked off cheaply, but Latham saw off the new ball and later deployed a proactive approach against spin. His strengths - a still head, decisive footwork and intense focus - were on bright display against Dilruwan Perera, Lasith Embuldeniya and de Silva. He was also particularly strong off the back foot, cutting and pulling with purpose, but when the ball was full enough for the sweep, he nailed it into the leg-side gaps. As many as 81 of his 111 runs came on the leg side.

It was only fitting that Latham raised his half-century with a hard, flat sweep to the square-leg boundary. He then reached his hundred with a full-blooded pull to the midwicket boundary against Dilruwan's offbreaks.

At the other end, Watling struggled against the ripping turn and bounce on offer but, as ever, his composure kept him on the wicket, unbeaten on 25.

Sri Lanka ended the day with their own wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella having to give up the gloves to substitute Dinesh Chandimal after hurting a fingernail. Dimuth Karunaratne, the captain and often a key player in second innings of Test matches, also left the field with a thigh problem. Things were so different in the morning.

De Silva was centre stage then, scoring 109 of the 151 runs that Sri Lanka made while he was out in the middle. There were sumptuous drives through cover, lofts straight over fast bowler's heads and equally importantly those nicked singles that helped him keep strike and frustrate New Zealand. The innings was not without luck though. He was on 9 when Trent Boult missed a sitter of a caught-and-bowled chance and even when he was on 99, he very nearly inside-edged Tim Southee onto his stumps.

But those moments faded away in light of the way he collared Ajaz Patel and struck three successive fours off the left-arm spinner, the pick of them an inside-out shot over extra-cover. It provided a throwback to his first runs in Test cricket: a similarly regal inside-out loft off Steve O'Keefe in Pallekele in 2016.

Ajaz, however, found success at the other end when he pinned the other overnight batsman Dilruwan with an arm ball that skidded off the pitch. Southee then went around the wicket and softened Suranga Lakmal with a short-ball attack, which resulted in the batsman taking his eyes off and fending one behind to Watling. In his next over, Southee removed Embuldeniya to come within one scalp of joining Boult in reaching 250 Test wickets in the same game.

De Silva, of course, persevered, even if the earlier moments of carefree abandon had given way to nerves as he approached his century with only the No. 11 at the other end. But a slash over backward point finally gave him what he wanted and he celebrated it by blowing kisses to the crowd. It was shaping up to be a very good day for Sri Lanka but now the Test match is back in the balance and the neutral fan should be bubbling with excitement.

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