| Stephen Fleming acknowledges the cheers after reaching his double century in Colombo Saturday. (AFP)
Colombo, April 26 (Reuters): Stephen Fleming hit a Test-best 274 not out on Saturday to put New Zealand in a commanding position in the first Test against Sri Lanka.
Exploiting some sloppy fielding, Fleming struck 28 fours and one six to pass 200 for the first time in his Test career to help his side declare on 515 for seven.
Fast bowler Darryl Tuffey then removed Maravan Atapattu for a duck to leave the home side on four for one when bad light ended the second day a few minutes early.
“It’s great. It’s just set up the Test, which I’m pleased about more than anything,” Fleming said.
“The personal side of things will sink in later tonight, but at the moment I’m delighted I was able to play a hand.”
Dropped twice, Fleming spent just over nine hours at the crease in stifling conditions. It was the second-highest Test score by a New Zealander after Martin Crowe’s 299.
The lanky left-hander, sometimes criticised for failing to convert good starts into major totals, broke into a huge smile and was hugged by teammate Scott Styris after reaching 200 with a boundary.
His previous highest score, 174 not out, was also against Sri Lanka in 1997-98.
Fleming, who now averages more than 76 against Sri Lanka in Tests, was well supported by Styris, who hit two sixes and five fours in his 63 before being caught by Chaminda Vaas off spinner Kumar Dharmasena to give the home side a wicket just before the interval. The pair put on 157.
Dharmasena earlier removed Mathew Sinclair on 17, caught by Kumar Sangakkara, after the batsman had been given a life when he was dropped by wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharana on 10.
Styris was also dropped twice, on 16 and 57, while Fleming escaped on 121 and 140, with Mahela Jayawardene spilling all four chances in the slips and at gully.
“We dropped about 10 chances and it’s very hard to come back on a pitch like this,” interim coach Duleep Mendis said.
“I think it was a lack of concentration and maybe a lack of fitness.”
Sri Lanka’s bowling improved towards the end, as Muttiah Muralidharan finally began to live up to his reputation, dismissing Jacob Oram for 33, caught by Kaushal Lokuarachchi.
Moments later he dismissed Robbie Hart for nine as Jayawardene finally held a catch.
New Zealand, ranked third in the world, are seeking their first series win in Sri Lanka for two decades. The second and final Test starts on May 3 in Kandy.