Kumar Sangakkara hit an unbeaten 61 on day two of his 100th test, as Sri Lanka battled back in Colombo on Saturday.
Sri Lanka, seeking a series-levelling win, closed the second day at 166-2 in their first innings after a batting masterclass from Michael Hussey had steered the tourists out of trouble at the Sinhalese Sports Club.
Mahela Jayawardene chipped in with 31 not out in a third-wicket stand of 69 with Sangakkara to leave the hosts 150 runs behind with eight wickets in hand.
Hussey followed a match-winning 95 in the first Test in Galle and 142 in the drawn second game at Pallekele with a fluent 118 studded with 12 boundaries and two sixes.
The left-hander, a veteran of 62 Tests, passed 5,000 Test runs on way to his 15th century — the fourth against Sri Lanka.
The 36-year-old’s value to the team can be guaged by the fact that he has scored four of Australia’s last six Test centuries, the other two coming from the blades of Brad Haddin and Shaun Marsh.
The hosts began their reply slowly as the left-handed opening pair of Tharanga Paranavitana and Lahiru Thirimanne took 25 overs to put on 56 on the board.
Thirimanne, a 22-year-old playing only his second Test, scored a watchful 28 off 80 balls when he was bowled by seamer Peter Siddle just before tea.
Paranavitana made 46 when he fell to a sharp catch at short cover by Ricky Ponting off Mitchell Johnson to leave Sri Lanka 97-2.
But Sangakkara and Jayawardene, whose partnership of 624 against South Africa at the same venue in 2006 is a world record for any wicket, settled in to build Sri Lanka’s reply.
Hussey was last man out for Australia, bowled by debutant seamer Shaminda Eranga, who finished with four for 65 after taking a wicket with his first delivery in Test cricket on Friday.
Left-arm seamer Chanaka Welegedara claimed three for 75, while new-ball partner Suranga Lakmal took 2-60.
Brad Haddin put on 75 for the sixth wicket with Hussey when Australia resumed the day at 235-5 before he was the first batsman to be removed in the morning session, caught behind off Eranga.
Hussey reached the 5,000-run mark with two consecutive boundaries off Welegedara that took his score to 99.
Hussey then watched from the other end as Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle were dismissed off successive balls by Welegedera, but Trent Copeland denied the seamer a hat-trick.
Hussey reached his century with a flick off Rangana Herath for a single, earning himself warm applause from his team-mates in the dressing room and 2,000 fans at the ground.
Welegedara picked up his third wicket when he had Copeland caught at second slip by Mahela Jayawardene as the Aussies slipped from 293-6 to 295-9.
Hussey scored 18 in a last-wicket stand of 21 with Nathan Lyon, including a reverse sweep off Herath to the third man fence after Sri Lanka had placed seven fielders on the leg-side.
Australia had been reduced to 22-2 in the ninth over on Friday after being sent in to bat by Sri Lanka skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan.