Skipper Mahela Jayawardene orchestrated an impressive 91 to lead Sri Lanka's fightback on day two of the first Test against New Zealand at the Galle International Stadium on Sunday.

Sri Lanka slumped to 50 for five in the wake of fast bowler Tim Southee's three-wicket burst in the morning session, but recovered to 247 all out thanks largely to Jayawardene and fellow half-centurion Angelo Mathew's efforts.

The tourists' second innings later reached 35 for one after losing opener Brendon McCullum, who was caught in the deep by Nuwan Kulasekara off left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. McCullum's departure left the contest evenly poised, with New Zealand nine runs ahead with as many wickets in hand.

Earlier, the Black Caps went without breakthrough in the middle session as the collective termination of Jayawardene and Mathews amassed a 156-run stand for the sixth wicket.

Spinner Jeetan Patel, however, removed Jayawardene and tail-enders Nuwan Kulasekara and Shaminda Eranga to wrap up the innings. Left-arm seamer James Franklin, cherished his first Test wicket since 2009 after dismissing Mathews for 79.

The New Zealand fast bowlers exploited the morning conditions, taking four wickets, with Southee grabbing three and Trent Boult one.

Southee snared opener Tharanga Paranavitana and nightwatchman Suraj Randiv in his opening two overs before accounting for Thilan Samaraweera, while Boult clinched the big wicket of Kumar Sangakkara, who was caught by McCullum at third slip.

The Kiwis have not won a Test series in Sri Lanka since 1998, but will consider themselves in a strong enough position to take a one-nil lead in this two-match series. The hosts, meanwhile, will have full faith in their spinners' ability to skittle the opposition a second time in three days come Monday.