Half-centuries from skipper Steven Smith and Shaun Marsh kept Australia in the hunt after Dinesh Chandimal’s ton for Sri Lanka dominated Sunday’s play in the third and final Test.
Australia, who lost opener David Warner early, were 141 for one at stumps on the second day in Colombo and trailing the hosts by 214 in the first innings.
Dhananjaya de Silva, who scored his maiden Test century on Saturday, struck again with the ball to claim the crucial wicket of Warner for 11.
But Smith, who was on 61 at stumps, soon took charge along with Marsh who finished the day on 64.
The pair used their feet to good effect against the Sri Lankan spinners as they combined the right mix of caution and aggression.
Smith’s 108-ball stay was laced with five boundaries and a six. Marsh, who was drafted into the XI for his Asia experience, struck 10 fours.
However Chandimal, who started Sunday on 64, was the hero of the day after his dogged 132 helped Sri Lanka post a challenging 355.
Chandimal’s overnight partner de Silva advanced from 116 to 129 before falling in the first hour, but not before the pair had rescued the innings with a 211-run partnership.
Their sixth-wicket stand lifted Sri Lanka from a precarious 26 for five to a position of strength.
Chandimal, who recorded his seventh Test century, put together another crucial 73-run partnership with Rangana Herath, who made a brave 33 before retiring hurt.
The two batted well even after a brief rain spell in the afternoon session, frustrating the Australian bowlers.
Sri Lanka’s cause was also helped by some poor fielding by the visitors. Chandimal and Herath were both dropped by Smith.
Shaun Marsh had dropped de Silva at short cover on the opening day when he was on 104.
Pace spearhead Mitchell Starc took 5-63, becoming the first Australian bowler to take three five-fors in a series in Sri Lanka.
Starc had wreaked havoc along with Nathan Lyon on Saturday to reduce Sri Lanka to 26 for five.
Top-ranked Australia, who have already lost the first two Tests, are desperate to avoid a series whitewash.