Mike Hussey scored an unbeaten 115 to drive Australia towards an aggressive declaration at 450 for five before Sri Lanka were reduced to 87-4 at stumps on the second day of the first test on Saturday.
More than two hours of play were lost to rain but the Australians made the most of what time they had on the picturesque Bellerive Oval to take firm control of the opening match in a three-test series.
Dimuth Karunaratne was the first Sri Lankan to fall but it was the cheap wickets of the experienced duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene that would have delighted Australia more.
Thilan Samaraweera was caught behind off the bowling of spinner Nathan Lyon for seven to bring an end to play and leave opener Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had made 50 not out, to resume on Sunday with Angelo Mathews.
“I think we’re in a fantastic position after getting a couple of those late wickets,” Hussey told reporters.
“You get Sangakarra, Jayawardene and Samaraweera out, they are guys that can make big scores and play in tough conditions.
“But we’ve still got a lot of hard work to do, they’ll fight very hard the Sri Lankans, they won’t be giving anything up easy.”
The day had started so well for the tourists when Australia, resuming on 299-4, lost Michael Clarke for 74 in the third over to break the latest in a run of prolific partnerships with Hussey that have produced 736 runs in the last four tests.
Young paceman Shaminda Eranga induced the Australian captain into an edge which Sangakkara collected with ease at second slip but it was the last wicket to fall in the hosts’ innings.
“We weren’t really up to it today,” Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford lamented. “I think the boys will be busy thinking about what went on today and hopefully we can come out and give it a real fight in the morning.”
Matthew Wade (68 not out) and Hussey proved just as obdurate in a 146-run partnership and cut loose to pile up the runs when play finally resumed after lunch, racing towards the declaration 40 minutes before tea.
Hussey reached his 19th test century in fortuitous circumstances when he was dropped at deep midwicket by Angelo Matthews and the ball bounced across the boundary rope for four.
“When you are in the 90s, your mind does funny things,” Hussey said. “I couldn’t believe I picked him out. I’ve seen Angelo take some brilliant catches. Sometimes it just happens to be your day.”
The 37-year-old breathed a huge sign of relief before whipping off his helmet to celebrate his third century in his last four matches and a fifth in six tests against Sri Lanka .
It was not his most fluent innings – coming off 171 balls with most of his eight fours struck after he reached the half century – but gave him a tally of 877 runs at an impressive average of 125.28 against the Sri Lankans.
“Sometimes you just have teams that you seem to score runs against and there’s other teams that you struggle against,” Hussey added. “I don’t know why, it just seems to happen.”
Australia first innings (overnight 299-4)
D. Warner run out 57
E. Cowan c Eranga b Welegedara 4
P. Hughes b Welegedara 86
S. Watson c M. Jayawardene b Welegedara 30
M.Clarke c Sangakkara b Eranga 74
M. Hussey not out 115
M. Wade not out 68
Extras (b-1, lb-3, w-1, nb-11) 16
Total (for five wickets dec, 131 overs) 450
Fall of wickets: 1-18 2-97 3-183 4-198 5-304
Did not bat: P. Siddle, B. Hilfenhaus, M. Starc, N. Lyon.
Bowling: Kulasekara 32-2-80-0 (nb-5, w-1), Welegedara 26-1-130-3 (nb-4), Eranga 25-5-90-1 (nb-2), Mathews 15-3-41-0, Dilshan 7-0-30-0, Herath 26-4-75-0.
Sri Lanka first innings
D. Karunaratne c Wade b Hilfenhaus 14
T. Dilshan not out 50
K. Sangakkara c Hussey b Siddle 4
M. Jayawardene lbw Watson 12
T. Samaraweera c Wade b Lyon 7
Total (for four wickets, 29.1 overs) 87
Fall of wickets: 1-25 2-42 3-70 4-87
To bat: A. Mathews, P. Jayawardene, N. Kulasekara, C. Welegedara, S. Eranga, R. Herath.
Bowling: Starc 7-1-30-0, Hilfenhaus 9-3-18-1, Lyon 2.1-2-0-1, Siddle 6-1-23-1, Watson 5-1-16-1
Second test Dec. 26-30 Melbourne Cricket Ground
Third test Jan. 3-7 Sydney Cricket Ground