More than a decade since their last Test victory in Sri Lanka, New Zealand cherished a solid second-innings declaration and then snared four late wickets to challenge history at the P Sara Oval on Wednesday.

Day four of the series decider in Colombo was always going to bring the most intrigue, with a captain's knock from Ross Taylor and two wickets apiece for seamers Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee swinging the momentum the way of the tourists.

Resuming on 225 for six overnight and eager to at least challenge for a lead, the Sri Lankans ambition failed to meet their eventual achievement. Fetching the last four wickets for less than 20 runs, Southee and fellow fast bowler Trent Boult's superb deconstruction of the opposition lower order had the greater say. There was more to come, from right-armer Southee in particular.

Near 200 runs to the good, the Black Caps could afford the early departures of opener Martin Guptill. and first-innings centurion Kane Williamson, and even a post-lunch spell that saw three wickets fall in four deliveries.

The early breakthroughs from home seamers Nuwan Kulasekara and Shaminda Eranga were surmountable, given the confidence the tourists drew form their technical and mental superiority on days one and two.

Skipper Taylor and debutant Ross Taylor dutifully obliged, reaching 74 and 35 reflectivity. Opener Brendon McCullum, meanwhile, did his bit with a handy 35. The tail-enders' collective inability to contribute, with numbers eight through 11 scoring just 15 runs between, them invariably didn't matter. The declaration duly followed on 194 for six.

A 363-run target, or the choice to bat out three and a half session, was quickly made all the more tougher by Bracewell and Southee. Without a wicket in the series prior to Wednesday, the former snared two in a lethal four-over spell. The latter, to added to his first-innings five-for, grew his match tally to seven.

Opener Tharanaga Paranavitana fell across his front pad to perish lbw for a first-ball duck, former captain Tillakaratne Dilshan's lack of foot movement had him caught behind, the left-handed Kumar Sangakkara shuffled too far across his stumps to be bowled around his legs - and skipper Mahela Jayawardene was left to rue playing at a delivery he didn't need to.

Outgunned in the first Test, New Zealand have enjoyed a swift turnaround to defy expectation in Colombo, where Thursday will surely bring them a series-squaring triumph, provided they can stave off the resilience of the unbeaten Thilan Samaraweera and company.