The closest New Zealand came to taking a huge first-innings lead - or, as it panned out, not conceding a huge one - in Wellington was off the first delivery of Trent Boult's first over of the day, when the ball swung sharply past the outside edge as Kumar Sangakkara went for a drive. Twice, in Christchurch, Sangakkara had fallen for single-digit scores edging similar deliveries from Boult. The cover drive may be Sangakkara's signature shot, but that early wake-up call was a sign he had to lock the shot in a safe, at least till Sri Lanka were out of danger.
By the time the shot started making regular appearances, Sangakkara had cruised past yet another century - his 38th in Tests and his third in New Zealand - and lifted Sri Lanka to a position of strength. The last time he scored off that cover drive in the innings, it took him to his 11th double-century, one short of Don Bradman's record 12, and the 143-run deficit at the start of the day had been transformed into a game-changing 135-run lead. The New Zealand openers survived 11 overs before the close of play, reducing the deficit by 22 runs.
Sangakkara's was an innings of two halves. Gritty first, one in which Sangakkara was prepared to give the bowlers, and the conditions, due respect and bide his time, like the young Vito Corleone. Then, the matinee-show entertainment, as the second new ball was taken apart by an authoritative, Brando's Vito-like ruthlessness. While the first 100 had taken 191 deliveries with seven fours, the second came off only 110 balls, with 11 fours and three sixes, lifting Sangakkara's Test average briefly over 59, before dropping to 58.92 on his departure.
Sangakkara had needed support in the first half, and that came through his fighting 130-run stand for the sixth wicket with Dinesh Chandimal. The partnership was critical. Sangakkara and Chandimal knew they had to survive an opening burst from Tim Southee and Boult to get any closer to New Zealand's total. Sangakkara appeared in discomfort against Boult's swing, playing out 29 balls to score eight runs in the bowler's testing opening spell of six overs. During that period, he curbed his scoring instinct and focused on defending from the back foot. It was the kind of restraint and discipline Sri Lanka needed too. It also meant that Chandimal only faced seven deliveries in that spell from Boult, who had looked the most threatening of the pace trio. Only 20 runs came in the first eight overs of the morning.
Chandimal showed more intent, both in his shot-making and his running between the wickets, to ensure Sri Lanka kept trudging ahead while Sangakkara held one end. He clipped Southee a couple of times to the square-leg boundary early in his innings. Chandimal had his fair share of plays and misses to deliveries wide outside off, but with time, his defence grew tighter. He reached his sixth half-century soon after lunch, and went on to complete 1000 runs in Tests with a paddle sweep for four.
For New Zealand, the first objective for the second day was straightforward - break the stand between Sangakkara and Chandimal, and expose the tail to the seamers - but, as they found out, not simple. Sangakkara's pedigree aside, even Chandimal has in the past shown a stomach for fight in overseas Tests. Still, New Zealand's seamers and even the spinner generated enough from the pitch to keep the batsmen alert, but by the time James Neesham broke the stand - in the 70th over - Sri Lanka were only 13 behind.
If New Zealand thought they could quickly clean up the tail, they were in for a rude shock. Sangakkara had just moved to 93 with his signature shot. The previous two times he had crossed 50 in New Zealand, he had gone on to score unbeaten centuries. He ensured he was not going to miss out on this start. Enter phase two.
The new ball was due in 10 overs, so Sangakkara increased the pace of scoring, picking up two boundaries off Neesham in the 76th over, then charged down the pitch against Doug Bracewell, lifting him over mid-on. The lead was 37 when the new ball was taken, but by then Sangakkara was already in an unrelenting mood. He had given Boult his time under the sun, now it was his turn. Boult was greeted with a flashing cover drive, then sliced through point in the same over. He was driven for two more boundaries through cover, over the infield, before he was taken off. The scores, if anyone was keeping them, had been well and truly settled.
Dhammika Prasad, Rangana Herath and Suranga Lakmal played their parts in rapid stands worth 34, 47 and 67, allowing Sangakkara to complete his masterclass.