Sri Lanka face an uphill task on the final day if they are to avoid defeat in the first Test against Australia. They lost both openers in their pursuit of 393 as the pitch began to show signs of alarmingly uneven bounce.
It is now left to the experienced pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to draw on all their class to, once again, try to save their side.
Their task will, of course, be made easier by the continued absence of Ben Hilfenhaus with a side strain, but Shane Watson showed that he was a more than adequate replacement by removing first innings centurion Tillakaratne Dilshan from the first ball that he bowled. Mitchell Starc then yorked his fellow opener Dimuth Karunaratne for a well-made 30 to leave Sangakkara and Jayawardene with a tricky last hour to survive.
Hilfenhaus’ injury isn’t the only fitness concern hanging over Australia. Their captain Michael Clarke was forced to end his entertaining knock of 57 after 46 balls, complaining of a sore hamstring, although he did return to lead the side in the field.
Following a century opening stand from David Warner and Ed Cowan, Sri Lanka had fought back well to restrict Australia’s lead to less than 400 as, besides Clarke, only Mike Hussey made a telling contribution, with an unbeaten 31.
Warner played his more natural game this morning after playing cautiously last night and even unveiled the switch-hit against Rangana Herath at one point. He was eventually undone by a ball from Herath that just left him and edged behind to Prasanna Jayawardene to start a steady collapse of nine for 146. Cowan was more circumspect and brought up his fifty off 125 balls before being bowled by Chanaka Welegedara, who would go on to match his first innings haul of three wickets.
Clarke and Hussey ensured against any major jitters and added 57 for the sixth-wicket before Clarke left the field with Australian team physio. Alex Kountouris. Hussey shepherded the tail to take the total close to 300 before Herath completed his five-wicket haul by trapping Hilfenhaus leg-before for a duck.
Clarke chose not to continue his innings - perhaps showing how confident Australia are with their lead of 392 or perhaps showing concern at the extent of his injury - so the innings was ended at nine down to leave Sri Lanka facing a record fourth innings run chase. Their previous highest run chase is the 352 for nine that they made against South Africa in 2006 and, if they are to get anywhere near that tomorrow, Jayawardene and Sangakkara will surely have to play significant innings.
© Cricket World 2012
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