Sri Lanka bowled out Australia for 278 with star spinner Rangana Herath taking five wickets, leaving them with 393 runs to win at tea. They went to stumps on 65 for two with a day to play.
Kumar Sangakkara and skipper Mahela Jayawardene dug in until close of play. Sangakkara’s 18 came off 88 balls and Jayawardene (5) took 25 balls to get off the mark.
The tourists will have to improve on Australia’s highest successful run chase at the Bellerive Oval of 369 against Pakistan in 1999.
Sri Lanka’s most successful run chase was 352 to beat South Africa by one wicket in Colombo in 2006.
Captain Michael Clarke added to Australia’s mounting injury woes when he tweaked his right hamstring and was forced to retire hurt on 57 after reeling off his fastest Test half-century.
“Surely in 90-odd overs there are eight balls that have got wickets on them. I think the wicket is playing a little more deceptively now. I’ve got full confidence that we’ve got an attack that has ability to get those eight wickets tomorrow,” said Aussie coach Mickey Arthur.
Australia began well, snaring the key wicket of first-innings centurion Tillakaratne Dilshan cheaply for 11 in the 10th over. Dilshan, who turned around his team’s faltering first innings with a knock of 147, was dismissed by Shane Watson.
Clarke, fielding at slip with his movement limited by his sore hamstring, gave Sangakkara a life on three when he dropped him off spinner Nathan Lyon.
“If we can bat through tomorrow’s first session without losing a wicket, it’s going to be a good game,” Herath said.