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Only six wickets separate New Zealand from their first test victory since January, a stretch that has culminated in five straight losses.
With Sri Lanka requiring a further 316 runs for an unlikely victory, the Black Caps are well and truly in the box seat heading into the final day.
And coach Mike Hesson, looking for his first test win at the helm of the national side, said his side were under no illusions about the importance of securing the rare victory.
"Following the test in Galle, there was a lot of hurt," he said. "Results don't lie - five (defeats) in a row is hard to take. There's been a lot of hard work and a lot of individual responsibility as well. We've had a number of guys stand up during this test match."
Chief among them, once again, has been the young pace trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell, which has taken 13 of the 14 Sri Lankan wickets to fall.
After declaring their second innings closed on 194-9, setting the hosts a chase of 363, New Zealand were handed a major boost in the final session with Southee and Bracewell both snaring two scalps.
The key wickets of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene were claimed as Southee and Bracewell reduced the home side to 47-4 when bad light closed play.
With Southee (5-62) and Boult (4-42) finishing off Sri Lanka's first effort with the bat earlier in the day, New Zealand's chances of emerging triumphant appear to lie with the continued success of their seamers.
"Our guys are tall and they present the seam very well," said Hesson. "So, if it's going to swing, they're certainly presenting the seam as well as you can. They're getting anything and everything they can out of the wicket in these conditions."
The Black Caps' chances of success may have been less bright if not for a fighting innings from captain Ross Taylor. With wickets tumbling around him Taylor backed up his first innings century with 74 invaluable runs, ensuring the batting unit didn't cede the advantage.
Taylor put on 97 for the sixth wicket with debutant Todd Astle (35), averting potential disaster after New Zealand lost three wickets in four balls to slip to 75-5.
Hesson was happy with the batting effort which, despite showing familiar signs of collapse, set Sri Lanka a record fourth innings chase at Colombo.
"Following the batting performance in Galle, we stood up. A number of times we were under pressure in the first innings - and again in the second - and we didn't capitulate, so it was good to see."
But even with a series-tying win within touching distance, Hesson was wary about prematurely popping the champagne corks.
"It's going to be hard work. We've got to turn up [today] prepared to put in six-and-a-half hours of hard graft. We know we're going to have to work for every one of those six wickets and it could take us to [stumps]."