Clarke, Watson, Johnson streak hosts ahead
Australia 8 for 440 (Clarke 106, Watson 83, Johnson 73*, Warner 62, Prasad 3-102) lead Sri Lanka 156 by 284 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It is said of golf that the measure of a player can be gleaned less by the quality of their best shots than by the quality of their worst. On day two of the Boxing Day Test, Australia's batsmen played a handful of poor strokes, but they were far less frequent and consequently less terminal than those offered up by Sri Lanka's batsmen on day one.
None of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade or Michael Hussey will be pleased with the manner of their dismissals to bowling that was more presentable than threatening. But of those only Wade erred before he had made any sort of useful contribution to what is now a handsome first innings lead. The tally was further bolstered by an impressively measured innings from Mitchell Johnson, who is making the most of this Test as though it may be his last.
By the close Australia were 284 runs ahead of Sri Lanka with three wickets left to fall, having taken suitable advantage of opponents who missed chances that had to be taken if the gulf opened up on the first day was to be narrowed. Losing the left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara to a hamstring strain, the visitors did their cause further harm by spurning chances to stump Clarke and catch Watson at slip before lunch.
Clarke capitalised by passing Ricky Ponting's record for most runs by an Australian in a calendar year on the way to a fifth century for 2012, and Watson did likewise by making his highest Test score in Australia for more than two years.
Watson succumbed to the maddening pattern of his career by falling short of a century, and Clarke did not advance far beyond one amid the loss of three wickets for four runs in mid-afternoon, but a cameo from Hussey and a more substantial stay by Johnson left the match more or less in Australia's keeping, much to the delight of a crowd of 39,486.
Resuming at 3 for 150, Clarke and Watson began cautiously, respecting the early spells of a Sri Lankan attack desperate to capitalise on the modest gains they made late on the second evening. A mere 11 runs were nudged and nodded from the day's first six overs, before the match took another turn away from the visitors.
Having already lost the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene to a thumb fracture, Sri Lanka now winced at the sight of Chanaka Welegedara clutching his right hamstring and limping from the field. He was sent to hospital for scans while Mehela Jayawardene summoned Shaminda Eranga to complete the over.
Eranga briefly threatened to add further insult to the injury tally when he used his ankle to stop Watson's stinging straight drive, but he recovered sufficiently to keep bowling. Eranga drew nervy moments from both batsmen - Watson jamming down on a yorker that squeezed close to the stumps and Clarke showing his discomfort when trying to duck under a bouncer. But he also gifted four overthrows to Clarke when he threw wildly in the general direction of the stumps following a push down the wicket from Australia's captain.
Helped by the injury and the charity, Clarke and Watson accelerated, and a trio of milestones duly followed. First came Clarke's 50, which has been a common sight in 2012. Next came Watson's half-century, which has not. It was in fact Watson's first score of better than 50 on home soil since the 2010 Boxing Day Ashes Test, a match best forgotten by Australians. Watson then was a makeshift opening batsman; now he is a No. 4 of considerable destructive potential.
Finally, as the clock ticked towards lunch, Clarke passed Ponting's runs record. It was not a mark reached without some palpitations offering Sri Lanka their best chances of the morning. Still needing two runs, he advanced somewhat hazily down the wicket to Rangana Herath, misread the line and the lack of turn, and was fortunate that Kumar Sangakkara was unsighted as the ball passed between Clarke's legs, precluding a clean take and a stumping.
Later in the same over Watson offered a simpler opportunity to Jayawardene at slip, his cut eluding the hands of the Sri Lankan captain. Clarke calmed down sufficiently to push the single that took him past Ponting, acknowledging the warm applause of the day two crowd with a wave of his bat. Clarke sought further glories beyond the interval, and skipped to his century with six boundaries in the hour after resumption, the last a swivel pull to fine leg to register his first Test hundred at the MCG.
Eranga generated some useful pace and bounce with the Great Southern Stand as his backdrop, and it was one of these deliveries that did for Clarke, who drove aggressively but minus sufficient precision to avoid a snick to his opposite number Jayawardene. Sri Lankan relief turned to glee when two more wickets swiftly followed.
Watson undid 197 balls of concentration with a hook at his 198th despite two men being posted deep for the shot, Dhammika Prasad the beneficiary when Thilan Samaraweera held the catch.That exit gave Watson the unseemly ratio of 19 50s and only two centuries in his 38 Tests. Wade perished in a similar fashion, swatting Prasad to Eranga in the deep having made only a single, and Hussey was fortunate a thin edge from Herath fell short of Jayawardene after rebounding off Sangakkara's pads.
That half-chance would be the only real glimpse of a wicket until Hussey and Johnson added an important 61, staving off the subsidence of the tail before the lead had been added to. They were parted by an extraordinary, one-handed catch from Herath when Hussey lofted wide of long on, but Johnson went on to the sort of score his batting talents have threatened rather more than they delivered. Unlike the batsmen on both sides, it may be said that so far in this innings he has seldom missed a fairway.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here