Sri Lanka kept their hopes alive of securing a series-levelling win over Australia in the final Test in Colombo on Monday, despite an unbeaten century from opener Phil Hughes.
Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath grabbed all three wickets as the tourists, trailing by 157 runs on the first innings, ended the fourth day’s play at 209-3 in their second knock at the Sinhalese Sports Club.
Hughes was unbeaten on 122 and skipper Michael Clarke was on eight, with Australia going into the final day on Tuesday 52 runs ahead with seven wickets in hand.
Clarke’s men will need to bat out at least two of the last three sessions to draw the match and clinch the series 1-0 on the back of a 125-run win in the first Test in Galle.
The rain-hit second match in Pallekele was drawn.
Clarke said the Test could still turn either way on the last day and refused to rule out an Australian win.
“It’s going to be a big day tomorrow,” he said. “This Test is certainly not over. The first session will be crucial.
“We could lose it if we don’t bat well. But I think there is a possibility, even a minor one, that if we can get a decent lead of around 150, there’s a chance we can still win this Test match.”
The Australian captain paid a rich tribute to Hughes, saying he had no doubt the 22-year-old would overcome his recent poor run.
“Phil deserves to be here,” said Clarke. “He has shown the world that he can play at the highest level. Today he showed his class. Reverse swing conditions, 150 behind on the scoreboard, that takes courage.”
Hughes had walked to the crease in danger of losing his spot in the team after failing to score a half-century in 11 innings since an unbeaten 86 against New Zealand in March last year.
The left-hander, who had an umpire’s review for a catch at the wicket go in his favour off the last ball of the day, responded with an aggressive knock that contained 16 boundaries and a six.
Hughes had also survived a review for leg-before on 99 before cutting seamer Chanaka Welegedara for two runs later in the same over to bring up his third Test century.
Hughes celebrated the landmark by raising his fist towards the travelling Australian media in the press box before he acknowledged the cheers from his team-mates and the crowd.
Hughes contributed 36 in an opening stand of 62 with Shane Watson and then added 60 for the second wicket with Shaun Marsh and 66 for the third with former captain Ricky Ponting.
Earlier, Sri Lanka gained a sizeable lead through a maiden Test century from vice-captain Angelo Mathews.
Mathews returned unbeaten on 105 as the hosts added 45 runs to their overnight score of 428-6 before they were all out for 473 shortly before lunch on the fourth day.
The 24-year-old has been one of Sri Lanka’s few batting stars in the series, having made 95 in the first Test and 58 in the drawn second game.
Fast bowler Peter Siddle claimed two of the last four Sri Lankan wickets to finish with 4-91 from 35 overs. Trent Copeland and Mitchell Johnson picked up two wickets each.
Mathews said Sri Lanka were well-placed to win the Test and draw the series.
“I think we are in a very good position to force a win,” he said. “There are still 90 overs to play, but we should take three or four wickets in the first session.”