Fiery Dilshan gives Sri Lanka belief
When Tillakaratne Dilshan reached his century, he leapt into the morning and so buoyant did he seem that the Tasmanian air held him in its embrace for a few split seconds longer than it ought. He had given life to Sri Lanka's Test, and his joy at the milestone was as unfettered as his morning's cricket had been. His trademark bandanna, the flamboyant beard and a clinking mass of gold around his neck make Dilshan easy to cast as some sort of maritime swashbuckler. The earring he once wore would have made the picture even more complete.
Sri Lanka's morning was ruled by adventure, and Dilshan was its protagonist. By taking the attack to Australia, he had shown his team-mates that they could compete with the hosts - even batter them, and they will need that belief in spades if they are to emerge from the tour with the bounty they yearn for.
For the first two hours of day three, Sri Lanka's batsmen were unburdened by a ragged scoreline and uncowed by a fresh attack. Angelo Mathews hit his first four with the pull, and though Australia first put men out on the leg-side fence, then had them catching close, he sneered at the challenge, pulling disdainfully whenever the bowlers plied him with hopeful short balls.
Dilshan had offered glimpses of belligerence late on day two, when he eased to fifty while wickets littered the other end. The whirring drives and dashing slashes were slow to emerge on day three, but when Dilshan greased his innings into motion with two quick boundaries off Mitchell Starc, there was no respite until he stood on a hundred's doorstep. In that time, Ben Hilfenhaus went off the field with an injury, and Dilshan seized the chance to put the hosts under pressure for the first time in the match, when he advanced to Nathan Lyon's first ball, and drilled him down the ground. Lyon was soon replaced, and Michael Clarke himself stepped in to the breach. With Mathews' assistance, he was hammered away before long as well.
"If the ball is there to be hit we thought we definitely will go for it," Dilshan said. "I and Angelo discussed that if the field was up, we should go over it and put the pressure on Nathan because he was their only spinner. That was our main aim. Angelo batted really well and put the pressure onto the bowler. He hit over mid-off and mid-on and got some quick runs in the first session."
In the second session, Dilshan nicked Peter Siddle behind, but to his great luck, Australia were unwise to the edge and only Matthew Wade whimpered an appeal. No adventurer ever slew a dragon, got the girl, or tamed the seas without a fair helping of fortune. Walking may suit his more straight-laced team-mates, but the opportunist in Dilshan could never allow for honour as square as that. He was deep into making lemonade from lemons for Sri Lanka, and he could use every grain of sugar the game supplied him.
Their impetuosity had its pitfalls. Twice Mathews would have been run out when Dilshan called him through for singles, only David Warner could not hit the stumps from point. Near-nicks grew more common than watchful leaves in the second session, and Siddle may have felt aggrieved at tea that only one batsman had snuffed it to his patience, control and fire. But perhaps that is the price of a swashbuckler's mindset. There is no gain without danger with foes as dauntless as these, and as Dilshan noted, it was his more violent outlook that ensured he survived a difficult evening on the previous day.
"Compared to others in the top order I am a little bit different. With my batting style, I always want to score runs and I am positive. Throughout my career I have batted that way. That may be the reason I survived yesterday. Different players have different game plans and yesterday it suited my game."
When Australia countered Sri Lanka's early riposte after lunch, the pair may have hemmed in their bravado, but every hero knows there are times when he must lay low. Mathews lacked the concentration to convert a wonderful fifty into a second Test hundred - a weakness that has been a theme of his career so far. But Dilshan saw the storm through to the other side, and was beginning to accelerate again when he was undone by a good Starc yorker.
Sri Lanka are still poorly placed in the match, but at least on day three, Dilshan proved they are not altogether beneath Australia's class. The visitors won the first session handsomely, were about even in the second - having lost only Mathews for the 62 runs they ground out, and could have approached parity in the evening, had they reviewed an lbw shout off Ed Cowan, which was plumb but for the possibility of an inside-edge, which Hot Spot did not produce in evidence.
Adventure may not always be Sri Lanka's route to success in Australia, but it proved a welcome respite from their reticence in the first two days, and gave them hope, however unlikely, that they might escape Hobart with credit.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent