PALLEKELE: Opener Kusal Mendis hit a quickfire 79 to help Sri Lanka post 174 for four in the first Twenty20 International against New Zealand in Pallekele on Sunday.
Mendis took charge after the hosts elected to bat first, building crucial partnerships including a 63-run third-wicket stand with Niroshan Dickwella, who made 33.
Opener Kusal Perera made 11 before falling to Kiwi skipper Tim Southee and number-three batsman Avishka Fernando was out for 10 as Sri Lanka slipped to 68 for two at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.
Mendis held firm to complete his fifth T20 fifty with a boundary off Colin de Grandhomme and went on to register his career-best score in the shortest format. His previous-best was 70.
He survived a reprieve on 55 when Ish Sodhi dropped a tough catch at short fine leg to add crucial runs in his 53-ball stay that was laced with eight fours and two sixes.
Mendis was finally holed out at deep mid-wicket off Southey, who returned figures of 2-20 from his four overs of pace.
The tourists suffered a blow when spaceman Locke Ferguson broke his thumb in training on Saturday to be ruled out of the series.
The hosts have handed leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga his first T20 cap at the start of the three-match series.