Sangakkara digs in for big climb
Sri Lanka 246 and 3 for 247 (Sangakkara 109*, Atapattu 80) need a further 260 runs to beat Australia 5 for 542 dec and 2 for 210 dec (Jaques 68, Ponting 53*)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
Kumar Sangakkara's century gave Sri Lanka reason to cheer but they still faced a huge challenge to avoid defeat after Brett Lee grabbed two wickets in two balls to bring Australia's 14th consecutive win closer. Sangakkara and Marvan Atapattu had guided Sri Lanka towards base camp in their Everest-like chase of 507 before Lee's strikes pushed them off course.
At stumps there was still a massive mountain to climb for Sri Lanka, who required a further 260 to win on the final day, having reached 3 for 247 with Sangakkara on 109 and Sanath Jayasuriya on 33. They need Sangakkara to lead the expedition into uncharted territory as they attempt to stop Australia securing a 2-0 series win.
Sangakkara appears well equipped for the job, having registered his first Test hundred against Australia in his sixth match. He was helped by some poor bowling from Stuart MacGill, who served up a rank full toss that allowed Sangakkara to take a baseball-like swipe down the ground for four to bring up his century from 178 deliveries.
It was his seventh boundary off MacGill, but Sangakkara also looked composed against the fast men. His cover drives were typically elegant and he did not appear too rusty after missing the opening Test with a hamstring injury. The only times he seemed to be in danger were with a couple of inside edges that shot past the stumps off the fast bowlers.
He combined with Atapattu for a 143-run partnership that made their enormous task look remotely possible and left Ricky Ponting with a slight headache, pondering possible alternative routes to the anticipated triumph. In the end the successful tactic was fast, aggressive bowling from Lee, who also extracted some reverse swing that proved particularly useful on a pitch that had not offered major assistance to the fast bowlers.
The most important breakthrough came when Lee moved Phil Jaques to deep square leg from the infield and immediately Atapattu, who was on 80, fell for the trap and hooked it straight to Jaques, who was pleased to clutch the chance after missing a sitter in Brisbane. Lee followed with a superb fullish inswinger that Mahela Jayawardene completely misjudged, leaving it to crash into his off stump. Jayasuriya survived the hat-trick ball but Sri Lanka's progress had been significantly hindered as they fell to 3 for 158.
The double-strike provided major relief for Ponting, who began the match eyeing the record of 16 straight Test victories set by a Steve Waugh-led Australia. While Sangakkara and Atapattu built their stand, Ponting might have worried that he could steal another piece of history from Waugh, who captained Australia when West Indies scored a record 418 in the fourth innings to win at St John's in 2003.
But Atapattu returned from the tea break looking like he had overindulged at the Bellerive buffet, and was sluggish in his reactions and nowhere near as sharp as earlier in the day. It nearly cost him his wicket on 75 when he defended Michael Clarke to leg slip where Jaques realised Atapattu had lifted his foot out of the crease. Jaques flicked the ball to Gilchrist but by the time he removed the bails on his second try Atapattu was back.
Prior to tea Atapattu was highlighting the reasons that he should be in the Sri Lanka team despite nearly two years out of Test cricket. His timing was outstanding and he managed nine fours on a ground whose outfield hadn't allowed balls to rush to the boundary. He was especially effective against MacGill, who struggled to send down anything that seriously threatened the batsmen.
Too often MacGill dropped short or overpitched, and Atapattu took 12 from one of his overs, striking a trio of boundaries with an excellent cover drive, a well-timed cut that brought up his half-century, and a textbook pull in front of midwicket. Nothing went right for MacGill, who might have had Jayasuriya caught in the deep late in the day had he not overstepped and been called for a no-ball. He finished with 0 for 93 from his 16 overs and his spot in the team far from secured for the long term.
Australia's only bowling joy in the first two sessions came when Michael Vandort (4) miscued an attempted pull and skewed Mitchell Johnson to point, where the substitute fieldsman Rhett Lockyear took a simple catch. The initial signs pleased Ponting, who decided to make Sri Lanka bat for eight overs prior to lunch having declared at 2 for 210.
Australia added 99 in the morning with little drama as Ponting finished with 53 and Michael Hussey with 34. Jaques missed the chance to strike his third consecutive century, falling for 68 as Australia batted for nearly two hours and were more concerned with consuming time than rattling up quick runs. Whether they needed more runs only time, and Sangakkara, will tell.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo