Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Cairns, 2nd day July 10, 2004

Atapattu and Sangakkara lead the chase to 517

Sri Lanka 2 for 184 (Atapattu 75*, Sangakkara 74) trail Australia 517 (Langer 162, Hayden 117, Martyn 97, Lehmann 50, Chandana 5-109) by 333 runs

Marvan Atapattu might have poked and groped initially, but his steely resolve saw him craft a crucial innings © Getty Images

The best wicketkeepers, they used to reckon, are the ones you barely notice. They reckoned without Adam Gilchrist. One typically swashbuckling innings and one untypically sprawling catch, all unfurled in the space of half an hour, spiced up an otherwise grinding second day's play at Cairns. In the end it was Sri Lanka, in knocking over Australia's middle order then knocking up 2 for 184 by stumps, who had much the better of it.

The man largely responsible was Kumar Sangakkara, relieved of the keeper's gloves and seemingly liberated because of it. Driving sweetly but skittishly early, then pulling and cutting sure-footedly as he went on, he and Marvan Atapattu breathed life into a contest that seemed destined for a wipeout. His downfall for 74 half an hour shy of stumps, coupled with the crucial early loss of Sanath Jayasuriya, left this second Test fascinatingly poised.

The catch that ousted Jayasuriya was untypical because wicketkeepers these days are governed by a look-before-you-leap philosophy: if the ball's heading towards first slip, let him deal with the darn thing. Gilchrist was having none of it.

Jason Gillespie had been clumped over leg and clipped through off by Jaysuriya for three fours in his first over. In his second he jagged one away late and Jayasuriya, unable to pull out of the stroke, edged to slip. Gilchrist hurled himself full-stretch to his left, pinched the ball one-handed out of Shane Warne's grasp, tumbled over tidily and leapt to his feet.

Ian Chappell, high up in the commentary box, was reminded of Rodney Marsh. Spectators, closer to ground, were left gawping at an orange-pawed vulture in sunglasses.

Perhaps Gilchrist was still tingling from his explosions with the bat. Australia, careering along at 3 for 454, had crashed aimlessly to 9 for 485 when he was joined by Glenn McGrath. With a far-flung field round the fence, Gilchrist turned down singles and struck out boldly. One ball from Lasith Malinga, barely short of a length, was slugged brutally over the midwicket boundary with a flap of the arms and an almighty backswing. Moments later, he embarked on two loping strides down the wicket and lofted the legspinner Upul Chandana exquisitely over mid-on for six.

Adam Gilchrist: a sizzling cameo followed by an acrobatic catch © Getty Images

In a rollicking partnership of 32 McGrath faced only two deliveries, blocking both with a watertight defensive motion. It was Gilchrist who ultimately succumbed, heaving hungrily yet again at Malinga, for a 33-ball 35. It was tempting to say that it was vintage Gilchrist, except that this was the first time in nine months and nine Tests that he has made 30 at better than a run-a-ball. Over that same period he has averaged 28 runs per innings at a strike-rate of only 70: handy by yesteryear's standards, verging on ham-fisted by his own.

How long till the Sangakkara debate reaches Gilchrist? To keep wickets or keep fresh, that is the question.

The only question at the start of play revolved around what time Ricky Ponting might declare. But Justin Langer, unable to muster his casual fluency of yesterday, scratched out just three runs before wafting irritably at a wide ball from Malinga and edging high to slip on 162. Darren Lehmann, ducking and darting and jiggling all round the crease, batted inventively yet again for 50 before slogging uncharacteristically at Chandana and holing out short of the sightscreen. Before that Simon Katich, equally untypically, had audaciously pulled and missed at Chandana and was bowled for 1 (5 for 462).

The innings of the morning belonged to Damien Martyn, all straight grace and silky elegance, until he got inexplicably bogged down upon entering his nineties. A rejuvenated Nuwan Zoysa, woeful yesterday, had Martyn playing and missing, inside-edging and repeatedly squared up. Finally, on 97, he prodded tentatively forward at Chandana and, despite the look of derision he shot at Aleem Dar, the Pakistan umpire, was trapped cosily leg-before.

The bowlers, eager to get out there themselves, seemed less keen to get their eyes in. Chandana, thanks to a combination of intelligent flight and less than intelligent shotmaking, finished with 5 for 109 as Australia subsided for 517.

Batting appeared even more fraught during McGrath's opening over. His first three balls were banged in hard and bent ominously away from Atapattu. The fourth kissed the pitch and promptly fizzed into him, smacking him on the thigh. He poked and groped at the last two but somehow got through.

That same determination carried Atapattu through until stumps. He was hit a couple of times, almost bowled and nearly caught in the slips. By the end, unbeaten on 75, he was pulling authoritatively and tucking in neatly behind the ball. McGrath remained tight and Michael Kasprowicz elicited numerous false strokes. But with Brett Lee toiling away in the Bundaberg Rum Stadium nets, and with the pitch flatter and truer than the pre-Test hype suggested, the quicks struggled to make much of an impression.

It fell to Warne, brought on at 1 for 79, to shake things up. His first over consisted of leggies, toppies and sliders, all on the spot. His second produced one deafening bat-pad appeal against Atapattu, rightly turned down, and one suicidal charge down the wicket. In his third over, a near-chance from Sangakkara plopped under Kasprowicz's hands in the gully.

Sangakkara looked more comfortable against Warne thereafter, twice dancing down and lifting him gorgeously over midwicket for four. With the battle seemingly won he repeated the shot, either failing to observe that Gillespie had since been stationed at long-on or attempting to clear him regardless. Whatever the case, it was dimwitted.

Gillespie clutched the simplest of catches. The Australians, as is their habit, pilfered a vital late breakthrough. And Warne was left needing only seven wickets, with a potential 18 up for grabs, for the world record. Over the next three days, as ever, it will be impossible not to notice him.

Christian Ryan is the editor of Wisden Cricinfo in Australia.