Solid Sangakkara fights for Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka 174 and 223 for 2 (Sangakkara 69*, M Jayawardene 38*) trail Australia 411 for 7 by 14 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia's chances of victory faded with the light around Pallekele on the fourth afternoon, as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene settled in on a pitch offering little for the bowlers. On a day that began with a pre-play declaration from Michael Clarke, when Australia led by 237, the Sri Lanka batsmen put up their firmest resistance of the series, and went to stumps with a deficit of just 14.
Most importantly, they also had eight wickets in hand when bad light forced another early finish in a match dogged by rain and gloom. It meant that Australia needed a string of wickets on the fifth morning to give themselves a chance of taking a 2-0 series lead, while Sri Lanka's goal was to overtake Australia and bat themselves into an unbeatable position.
They could hardly have had two better men at the crease. Sangakkara and Jayawardene hold the record for the highest partnership in Test history, a phenomenal 624 set in Colombo against South Africa five years ago. A double-century stand would just about be enough for Sri Lanka in this game, and they had made a fine start, their 95-run partnership taking the total to 223 for 2.
Sangakkara was on 69 and Jayawardene had 38, and both had played sensibly, with their first object crease occupation and runs their secondary goal. Their only real moment of danger came when Jayawardene swept the offspinner Nathan Lyon and his top-edge lobbed just out of the reach of Brad Haddin and Clarke, who ran from slip to leg slip to try a diving take.
Otherwise, Australia barely got the sniff of a wicket during the partnership. Sangakkara brought up his half-century with a clip off his pads for a boundary off Mitchell Johnson, from his 128th delivery. He struck eight boundaries, generally waiting for the bad balls, like when he pulled consecutive boundaries off Clarke's long-hops, but he also drove well against Ryan Harris.
It was real Test cricket, a test for the fielding side as well as the batsmen. Clarke juggled his bowlers and generally the results were the same, except for another inspired introduction of Michael Hussey, who had broken through in his first over in the first innings. Hussey entered the match with two Test wickets, and has doubled that tally, after again picking up a wicket as soon as he was used in the second innings.
He came on for the last over before a drinks break, and his right-arm partnership breakers accounted for Tharanga Paranavitana, who had showed impressive resolve in his 55. It was a strange dismissal; the batsman drove at the ball outside off and Brad Haddin, keeping up to the stumps, was vociferous in his appeal for caught-behind, although Hussey was barely interested.
The umpire Tony Hill was unmoved, but so convinced was Haddin that Clarke asked for a review, and the third official Shavir Tarapore overturned the not-out decision. There was a faint noise as the ball passed the bat, but there was no obvious movement off the bat, and Paranavitana could have considered himself unlucky not to be given the benefit of the doubt.
He had already survived a confident caught-behind review on 26 when the Australia players felt certain he had gloved the ball down the leg side off Mitchell Johnson. Replays suggested the ball may have brushed the glove, but on that occasion Tarapore did give Paranavitana the benefit of the doubt. It was one of a few nervy moments for the Sri Lanka openers in the first session as they almost made their way through to lunch unscathed, stumbling just before the break when Tillakaratne Dilshan departed for 36.
The breakthrough came after the players returned to the field for a ten-minute period before lunch, after a short rain delay, and the break might have affected Dilshan's concentration. He flashed at a Ryan Harris delivery and was caught at first slip by Shane Watson, not a surprising dismissal after two earlier edges from Dilshan off Watson fell short of men in the cordon.
It ended the opening partnership at 81, a vast improvement on Sri Lanka's first-wicket stands so far in the series: 4 and 0 in Galle and 2 in the first innings of this game. Dilshan drove well when the fast men bowled too full, while Paranavitana played some punchy drives down the ground and through cover, after he played and missed quite a few times against the new ball.
Australia could also have had Paranavitana run out, but a terrible throw from Phillip Hughes at midwicket wasted the opportunity, with the batsman struggling to make his ground at the striker's end. Australia knew they had to take their chances in the field with the possibility that bad weather would stand in their way as they aimed to take a 2-0 series lead.
The time lost to rain and bad light, and the potential for further breaks, was the main reason Clarke declared overnight, with Australia at 411 for 7. He'll be hoping for a perfect day on Monday, but even that won't be enough for Australia if Sangakkara and Jayawardene keep up their fighting attitude.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo