Pacer Tim Southee grabbed a five-for as New Zealand skittled Sri Lanka's top order on the opening day of the first Test in Wellington on Saturday.

Southee took three scalps in a devastating opening spell to reduce the tourists to nine for three, then followed with a double strike to snuff out a promising fightback in the final session.

Sri Lanka was 275-9 at stumps, with their hopes resting on a rearguard action from Niroshan Dickwella, who was not out on 73.

Angelo Mathews and Dimuth Karunaratne were the only other batsman to offer any meaningful resistance, notching 83 and 79 respectively and forging a 133-run partnership.


Mathews said it was a difficult wicket to play on as the ball nipped around early, although he was wary of conditions possibly easing when New Zealand bat on day two.

“We need as much (runs) as we can,” he said. “The wicket might get better once the sun is out.”

Southee ended the day with five for 67 in 25 overs, his eighth five-wicket haul in Test cricket and his best figures at the Basin Reserve.

His early burst ensured New Zealand's decision to bowl on a green wicket after winning the toss reaped immediate rewards.

Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal said before the match that he wanted his top order to survive the first hour and see off the new ball but the wickets began to tumble in just the second over.

Danushka Gunathilaka was Southee's first victim, out lbw for one after failing to deal with a late inswinger.

Dhananjaya de Silva then edged through to the keeper for the same score and a clearly rattled Kusal Mendis only managed to reach two before hitting a simple catch to Ajaz Patel at mid-wicket.

Karunaratne was given a life on 33 when Neil Wagner had him caught at mid-wicket, only to have the delivery ruled a no-ball due to a foot fault.

He was also fortunate not to be caught in the slips after nicking a swinging Southee delivery just before bringing up his 21st Test 50.

'Frustrating' innings

Wagner finally got his man after lunch when Karunaratne miscued a pull shot and gloved a short ball to keeper BJ Watling.

Mathews looked threatening before Southee struck again, leaving Dickwella to work with the tailenders in pursuit of a respectable total.

He did the job superbly, frustrating the New Zealand attack to take Sri Lanka's innings into a second day.

Southee said Dickwella had showed that batting positively could work on the pitch.

“Dickwella's come out and played aggressively and a gem of an innings for them, frustrating for us probably,” he said.

“We'll turn up tomorrow and get that (last) wicket as quick as possible.”

Sri Lanka, ranked sixth in the world, has lost its last five Tests against New Zealand and suffered a 3-0 Test series whitewash against England last month.

It has faced upheaval in its coaching and selection ranks in recent weeks and arrived in New Zealand low on confidence. In contrast, the fourth-ranked Black Caps entered the two-match contest buoyed by its first away Test series win over Pakistan in 49 years last week.