Vandort, rain and bad light frustrate Australia
Sri Lanka 5 for 218 (Vandort 82, M Jayawardene 49) and 211 trail Australia 4 for 551 dec by 122 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Michael Vandort gave Australia's new-look attack its first real examination, forcing the players to work a full five-day week with his resilient 82 before he became Stuart MacGill's 200th Test wicket. Australia had set out to wrap up the first Test within four days but Vandort, regular rain breaks and bad light denied them a free Monday in Brisbane.
When the umpires offered Sri Lanka the light the visitors had reached 5 for 218 with Chamara Silva on 5 and Prasanna Jayawardene yet to score. However Australia were still well on the way to victory - weather permitting - as Sri Lanka trailed by 122 runs in their follow on.
Australian fans who have spent the past ten months watching their team in 50-over or Twenty20 matches were given a stark reminder of what Test cricket is all about as Vandort patiently batted throughout most of the day and through four rain delays. Shortly after the final break his 170-ball stay ended with MacGill ripping a super legbreak out of a slightly rough patch back into Vandort's off stump.
MacGill was in his 19th consecutive over when he finally had that first stroke of luck. The classic MacGill legspinner was an appropriate way for him to collect his 200th wicket, achieving the feat in his 41st Test - only Clarrie Grimmett, Dennis Lillee and Waqar Younis took fewer games to get there.
Vandort had been a major frustration for Australia but his dismissal gave the hosts back the momentum they had been lacking. The next over Thilan Samaraweera, who had spent nearly an hour and a half at the crease compiling 20, cut Mitchell Johnson viciously to gully where Michael Hussey took a sharp catch on the second grab.
It gave Australia a brief hope of finishing the task before stumps, however the batsmen jumped at the chance to finish due to bad light soon afterwards, at 4.25pm local time. The day had been a trying one for Australia's unfamiliar combination of Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Johnson and MacGill. They enjoyed a brief honeymoon period in the first innings but endured a more rigorous probe in the second, mainly thanks to Vandort's determination.
Ricky Ponting no doubt wished he could call on the proven Gabba wizards Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath but he had to calculate his bowling changes without the star pair in the equation. Instead there was a distinct lack of wizardry from Ponting's men, who spent most of the day toiling hard but struggling to create chances on a pitch that remained good for batting.
Vandort, on the other hand, did display one impressive trick - not in his strokeplay but in the way he transformed from a man who looked out of his depth into a composed and resilient No. 3. The change did not come with a click of the fingers - nothing much happens that quickly for Vandort - but it must have occurred overnight after his duck in the first innings and unconvincing start on day three.
He began the fourth day on 15 with Mahela Jayawardene on 8 and there was little prospect of any good news for Sri Lanka after three days of playing on Australia's terms. But Vandort dug in determinedly, placing a premium on his wicket and refusing to give Australia the ending they wanted.
Only occasionally did he show his attacking instincts but he was able to put away loose balls from MacGill, including an excellent straight drive for four off a half-volley and a simple pull to the boundary when MacGill dropped short. He even went aerial on occasion, sweeping MacGill confidently for four over midwicket and lifting him over mid on for four immediately when he changed the angle and came around the wicket.
If the selectors did not have enough to think about following Marvan Atapattu's outburst in which he called them "muppets headed by a joker", they will also now have to work out where to slot Vandort in for next week's Hobart Test should Kumar Sangakkara prove himself fit to play at No. 3.
Jayawardene helped Vandort survive until after lunch, posting a watchful 49 before Johnson found some extra pace and bounce and enticed a thin edge behind. The regulation dismissal gave Adam Gilchrist a milestone of his own; he became the third wicketkeeper after Ian Healy and Mark Boucher to collect 350 Test catches.
Although Australia had a more testing fourth day than any of the preceding three, it seems that only final-day rain or a remarkable lower-order partnership can save Sri Lanka from defeat. Wet weather halted play in all three sessions of day four and Australia will be keeping a close eye on the forecast as they pursue a 1-0 series lead when the fifth day starts early at 9.30am local time.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo