Jayasuriya's 131 sets up a Kandy classic

Close Sri Lanka 211 and 301 for 7 (Jayasuriya 131) need 51 more runs to beat Australia 120 and 442 (Gilchrist 144, Martyn 161, Muralitharan 5-173)

Sanath Jayasuriya gave Sri Lanka hope of a remarkable series-levelling victory with an electrifying batting assault on the fourth afternoon at Kandy. Set an improbable target of 352, Sri Lanka raced out of the blocks with Jayasuriya plundering a brilliant 131. But Australia kept them in check with regular wickets, and struck a crucial - perhaps matchwinning - blow when Tillakaratne Dilshan fell in the fading evening light. Sri Lanka closed on 301 for 7, still needing 51 for a remarkable victory.

Sri Lanka have a mountain to climb with only their tailenders remaining, but they can still dream, thanks to the efforts of Jayasuriya. Coming into the match with an injured hand, and having mustered just 41 runs in his previous three innings in the series, he thrilled the small but vocal crowd, blasting 17 fours and two sixes in an 145-ball epic.

Australia only stayed in the game thanks to the Herculean efforts of Jason Gillespie, who wrestled back the initiative during an exhausting 10-over spell with the wickets of Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene. Gillespie finished with 3 for 61 from 17 overs. Shane Warne played his part, too, snaring Hashan Tillakaratne in the final hour, as Ricky Ponting dived forward at silly point to take a fine one-handed catch, and then striking moments before the close to clean up Dilshan, the last specialist batsman. Warne now has 3 for 81, and eight wickets in the match.

In the morning, Damien Martyn's career-best score, a marathon innings spanning nearly nine hours and 347 balls, lifted Australia to 442. The last man out for 161, Martyn ensured that Sri Lanka would have to produce their greatest run-chase in Tests - their previous-highest successful chase is 326 for 5, against Zimbabwe in January 1998.

Local hopes were soon dampened as Marvan Atapattu (8) was adjudged lbw soon after lunch, although the TV replays indicated that he had been struck outside the line of off stump. Six overs later he was joined in the dressing-room by Avishka Gunawardene - also trapped leg-before, this time for 9 - to leave Sri Lanka reeling at 36 for 2.

At that stage, the crowd's biggest cheer was for the effrontery of a local dog - the only fielder at third man - which relieved itself on the outfield. Meanwhile, Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara, cracked on the helmet by Michael Kasprowicz, were being given a torrid working-over by Australia's new-ball bowlers, and they played and missed frequently.

But gradually, first Jayasuriya then Sangakkara started to find their range. Jayasuriya, dropped at third slip when he had made 25, walloped boundaries through point, and Sangakkara pinged one glorious drive straight down the ground. Runs started to flow, and Warne's introduction did not stem the tide. The 50 stand came up in just 68 balls, and suddenly the possibility of reaching that mammoth target became more real.

But Sangakkara was eventually outwitted by Warne. He used his feet and tried to drive straight down the ground but, deceived by the flight, he only clipped the ball back to Warne to leave Sri Lanka wobbling again, at 98 for 3. But Sangakkara's departure did not deter Jayasuriya: he continued to attack, producing one flamboyant cut that sailed over point for six.

The run-fest was sustained after tea, with Jayasuriya rushing to his first hundred since his 145 against Bangladesh in July 2002. The crowd in the grandstand rose as one for a deserved standing ovation. Jayawardene, somewhat out-of-sorts, played second fiddle quite happily, and 76 runs were added in just 97 balls. However, Gillespie checked the momentum when Jayawardene nibbled at a short rising ball and Adam Gilchrist gobbled up the 200th catch of his career (174 for 4).

The Jayasuriya Show continued, though, as Stuart MacGill was collared out of the attack, conceding 16 runs in the final over of an 11-over spell that leaked 65 runs. Ponting turned back to Warne and persevered with Gillespie, his two main strike bowlers. Gillespie's exhausting efforts were eventually rewarded with the prize scalp of Jayasuriya, who nicked to Gilchrist, a dismissal that silenced the crowd (218 for 5).

Jayasuriya's departure slowed Sri Lanka's run rate, and lifted the curtain on the final, desperately tense, passage of play on a truly great day of Test cricket. Dilshan hung on by the skin of his teeth, coming perilously close to being trapped lbw by both Gillespie and Warne, but also puncturing the tension with the occasional boundary. Unfortunately, for Sri Lanka, Tillakaratne could not stay to the end, then Dilshan, crestfallen as he walked back, was bowled by a sharp legbreak that clipped his off stump (272 for 7).

Sri Lanka hopes now rest on the shoulders of Chaminda Vaas, who followed his 68 not out in the first innings with an undefeated 30 so far, and Kaushal Lokuarachchi (13 not out in a stand so far worth 29), who failed to make an impression with the ball but now has a chance to become a hero with the bat.

Before all this drama, Martyn and Andrew Symonds added 40 in 49 minutes in the morning, surviving the initial period against Sri Lanka's seamers after an early start. Despite torrential rain the previous evening, neither Vaas nor Nuwan Zoysa extracted much from an increasingly slow pitch.

Actually Sri Lanka should have broken through quickly, but Jayawardene fluffed his third slip chance of the innings off Martyn. Jayawardene, normally Sri Lanka's safest slip catcher, had moved closer after the ball had died on him on the two previous occasions, but this time the ball flew quickly to his left. It was a difficult chance, but one he would normally expect to have pouched.

Muralitharan, operating throughout the morning from round the wicket, eventually broke through, much to the chagrin of Symonds (23), who missed a sweep and was adjudged lbw by Dave Orchard. Symonds's front pad was stretched a long way forward, but the all-seeing TV replay vindicated Orchard's decision - the ball would have hit middle and leg (360 for 6).

With the lower order now exposed, Muralitharan finally started to pick up some rewards for his hard toil. Warne stayed 26 minutes for 6, but couldn't resist taking on his spin rival, and skyed a catch to mid-off as he tried to loft down the ground. Gillespie (11) threaded one neat cover-drive before clipping tamely to mid-on (393 for 8).

Martyn, running out of partners, started to turn up the tempo, lofting a boundary off Vaas. Kasprowicz also tried to attack, smacking one straight six. He also stayed long enough to upset the Sri Lankans, refusing to walk after they claimed a low slip catch. The TV umpire was unable to rule out all doubt, and Kasprowicz survived.

In the event, the reprieve mattered little as Kasprowicz clubbed his next delivery to short cover, where Jayawardene finally clung on to a catch (408 for 9). The advantage at that stage was 317, giving Sri Lanka a flicker of hope, but Martyn and MacGill, who made 17 not out, added 34 useful runs for the last wicket to stretch the lead to 351.

Muralitharan, who reeled off an exhausting 50.3 overs in the innings, finished with 5 for 173. It was his third five-for of the series, and the 42nd of his career, stretching his series wicket-tally to 20, and 505 in all. Warne has so far taken 18 wickets in the series ... and much tomorrow could depend on whether he can winkle out the last three wickets quickly.