David Warner set up a potentially thrilling finish to the third Test in Colombo, where Australia reached 77 for 1 at lunch in their chase of 324. The target required Australia to score more in the fourth innings of a Test in Asia than they ever had before, and to do so at a reasonable rate – a minimum of 83 overs were allocated for the innings. By lunch they needed a further 247 from at least 61.2 overs.
Warner was the key, having moved to 44 from 64 deliveries. He started briskly and struck three fours and one six, using his feet well and taking advantage of any loose deliveries from Sri Lanka’s spinners. A defensive tactic of bowling offspin around the wicket and outside leg slowed his progress towards the end of the session, but his ability to score quickly meant that while he remained at the crease, anything was possible.
Angelo Mathews had given his batsmen nearly five overs on the final morning to add a few more runs – 35 to be precise – and if it seemed an overly conservative decision Australia’s strong start might have made him wish he had delayed his declaration even further. However, on the stroke of lunch Sri Lanka struck their first blow, when Shaun Marsh on 22 poked a catch off Dilruwan Perera to short leg, where Kusal Mendis brilliantly took it on the second grab.
Four overs earlier, Mathews had been so desperate for a breakthrough that he used up both of Sri Lanka’s reviews in consecutive deliveries. The first came when Perera turned one from outside leg and Warner padded up – the ball lobbed off his pad to Mathews at slip but not off the glove or bat, as the Sri Lankans wanted. The second was a quicker ball that trapped Warner in front, but the delivery had pitched outside leg.
Sri Lanka’s three finger spinners, who did all of the bowling up to lunch, found turn and occasionally delivered a pearler, but generally they lacked the threatening presence that had often been seen in this series. Wrist-spinner Lakshan Sandakan, who went wicketless in the first innings, should find plenty of spin after lunch.
Earlier, Dhananjaya de Silva finished unbeaten on 65 and Suranga Lakmal was on 4 when Sri Lanka’s declaration came with the total on 347 for 8. De Silva is likely to finish the series as the highest scorer from either side, with a tally of 325 from six innings, a fine achievement in his debut series.
To win, Australia would need their highest ever fourth-innings total in Asia, their current best being the 307 for 7 that delivered them victory against Bangladesh in Fatullah in 2006. A Sri Lankan triumph would result in a historic whitewash against Australia, which would be the fourth in Sri Lanka’s history against all comers – they have beaten Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies 3-0 once each.