Australia blew the chance to take an iron grip on the third Test against Sri Lanka and instead scrabbled to a 48-run first-innings lead after reaching 342 for six at the close of the second day’s play yesterday.
Phil Hughes and David Warner got the hosts off at a canter on a glorious morning with half-centuries in a partnership of 130, as Australia looked to build a big total in their bid to sweep the series 3-0.
However, two run-outs, including one for Mike Hussey in his final Test, and a couple of soft dismissals left Sri Lanka bowling at Matthew Wade, who had survived a good few scares to reach 47, and Peter Siddle (16) when stumps were drawn.
Australia captain Michael Clarke also made 50, but will probably remember the day more for having given the call for the risky single that saw Hussey dismissed for 28 by Dimuth Karunaratne’s direct hit.
Sri Lanka, who made 294 in their first innings, showed considerably more fight than they had in the innings-and-201-run defeat in Melbourne last week and they were only a couple of dropped catches from being right back in the match. Hughes, who carved out a stylish 87, and Warner, who hit a more pugnacious 85, had plundered runs in the opening session against a patched-up pace attack in almost perfect batting conditions.
The only wicket to fall before lunch was that of opener Ed Cowan, who gave a precursor of what was to come when he ran himself out for four.
Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene finally introduced spinner Rangana Herath after the break and the most prolific wicket-taker in Test cricket last year almost had an immediate impact with a strong LBW appeal against Warner.
It was turned down and a TV appeal showed the ball was turning too much to hit the leg stump, but 30 minutes later the opener was heading back to the dressing room.
The 26-year-old, who had reached his half-century off just 37 balls, could not resist a slash at a Tillakaratne Dilshan delivery, only for the ball to balloon up into the air for Dhammika Prasad to take the catch backtracking at long-on. Hughes had shown that for all the rebuilding of his technique he could still cut the ball like few other batsmen, but on 87, traditionally considered the unlucky number for Australian batsmen, he tried another and was caught behind off Herath.
Hussey, who is to retire from international cricket after this match, received a huge ovation from the crowd as he came out to bat and was welcomed to the crease by a guard of honor from the Sri Lanka players.
However, it was Clarke who caught the eye and he punished anything loose from the Sri Lanka bowlers, most notably when he hit a towering six and a lofted four off Herath in consecutive balls just before tea.
The 31-year-old turned villain in the fourth over after the break when he called for the single that resulted in Hussey’s dismissal and put a dent in the 37-year-old’s previous average of 117.75 against Sri Lanka and 100 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Clarke, the most prolific batsman last year, reached his 25th half-century with a single through the covers, but an over later his first innings of the year was ended when he misfired a sweep off Herath and Karunaratne took a good catch on the run.
Wade was dropped, then survived a Sri Lanka TV appeal for a catch which was ruled out for a no ball and was finally forced to resort to the TV umpire himself to overturn a decision that he had been caught out — all while he was on 22.
Nuwan Pradeep grabbed the final wicket of the day when he had Mitchell Johnson caught behind for 13 — only the second Test wicket for the Sri Lanka seamer, whose average had soared above 400 during the day’s play.