Sri Lanka lose early wickets in big chase
Sri Lanka 336 and 2 for 65 (Sangakkara 18*, M Jayawardene 5*) need another 328 runs to beat Australia 5 for 450 dec and 278 (Warner 68, Clarke 57, Cowan 55, Herath 5-96, Welegedara 3-89)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia have been here before. One day to play, one bowler short, and an opposition whose top order has already been rattled. But Sri Lanka will need even greater powers of concentration to match the remarkable feats of Faf du Plessis and his South African colleagues, who secured a draw in Adelaide last month by batting out the final day. As stumps approached on the fourth evening in Hobart, the pitch was providing such variable bounce that even two of the world's finest batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, could do little but chuckle with resignation.
They will begin the final morning with Sri Lanka's total on 2 for 65 in a chase of 393, with Sangakkara on 18 and Jayawardene on 5. The target appeared extremely challenging when Sri Lanka began their innings - their best chase to win a Test was 352 for 9 against South Africa in Colombo in 2006 - and by stumps it looked nigh on impossible. But with two such talented batsmen at the crease, the Sri Lankans will also know that anything can happen, and Australia will need to find the remaining eight wickets without the injured Ben Hilfenhaus in their attack.
The captain Michael Clarke also battled injury on the fourth day, retiring hurt with a hamstring problem after scoring a brisk half-century. He took his place in the field during Sri Lanka's chase and directed proceedings from the slips cordon, but did wince on a couple of occasions when forced to stretch his sore right hamstring. The injury might place him in doubt for the Boxing Day Test, but Australia will be more comfortable with that scenario if he delivers them a 1-0 lead on the final day in Hobart.
Things had started reasonably well as Shane Watson struck with his first delivery, nipping the ball away from Tillakaratne Dilshan and finding the outside edge through to Matthew Wade. Dilshan's opening partner Dimuth Karunaratne looked reasonably solid until he was bowled for 30, the victim of a Mitchell Starc yorker that sneaked under the bat.
Runs came slowly for Sangakkara and Jayawardene, whose primary goal was survival, and when one ball from Watson skidded almost along the ground to Sangakkara, the enormity of that task was apparent. The Australians could have had Sangakkara on 3 when his thick edge off Nathan Lyon was dropped by Clarke at slip, and they knew he was their primary obstacle, the same man who scored 192 against them on the same ground five years ago, also in the fourth innings of a Test.
On that occasion, Sri Lanka were chasing 507; this time the target was sub-400, confirmed when Hilfenhaus was the last man out in Australia's innings shortly before tea, handing Rangana Herath his fifth wicket for the innings. Michael Hussey remained not out on 31 when Australia were dismissed for 278, with Clarke not emerging from the dressing rooms to bat again having earlier retired hurt on 57.
It was to Sri Lanka's credit that they fought back with the ball after David Warner and Ed Cowan gave Australia a strong start with a 132-run opening stand. Both men fell shortly before lunch and the Sri Lankans were able to claim the rest of the wickets before tea. Watson (5) was the victim of a sharp stumping by Prasanna Jayawardene off the bowling of Herath, before Phillip Hughes was bowled by Shaminda Eranga for 16.
Matthew Wade, promoted to No.5 in an attempt to provide the Australians with quick runs, was on 11 when he holed out to long-on from the bowling of Herath and that brought together Clarke and Hussey, who so often this summer have rescued the Australians. Again they proved a strong combination and Clarke was in typically fine touch, moving the score along at a rapid rate with boundaries all around the wicket.
But on 57 from 46 balls, an innings that included five fours and a six, he left the field with the team physio Alex Kountouris, and did not return. Another 40 runs came after Clarke's departure as Hussey did the best he could with the tail-enders. Chanaka Welegedara finished with 3 for 89 and six wickets for the match when he had Peter Siddle caught behind for 4 and Starc lbw to an inswinging yorker for 5, and Herath cleaned up the rest. Nathan Lyon struck a couple of boundaries through the leg side before he was bowled, yorked by Herath as he tried another sweep, and the injury-affected Hilfenhaus was lbw for an eight-ball duck.
Earlier, Warner and Cowan enjoyed their longest opening stand before both fell after reaching half-centuries. They put on 132 together and batted for 41.1 overs, the longest opening stand by an Australian pair since the end of Simon Katich's Test career. Warner had been watchful on the third afternoon but began to play a more typical innings on the fourth day, culminating in a muscular switch-hit for four off Herath.
Warner had also thumped Herath over long-on for six and brought up his half-century with a powerful pull for four off the bowling of Welegedara, from his 101st delivery, and he was clearly trying to lift the tempo as lunch approached. However, on 68 Warner's innings came to an end when he failed to pick a delivery from Herath that turned away from him and the edge was snapped up by the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene.
Cowan, who was characteristically calm and ticked the score along with singles while waiting for the bad balls, brought up his fifty with a cut for four off Welegedara from his 125th delivery. But it was Welegedara who ended Cowan's stay with an excellent delivery that swung in and beat the bat to have Cowan bowled for 55. And the way the pitch started playing later in the day, the half-centuries to both of Australia's openers had become increasingly valuable.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here