LUNCH: Sri Lanka 2-80 after 26 overs (Jayawardene 30, Thirimanne 4)
TEA: Sri Lanka 4-169 after 54 overs (Thirimanne 37, Mathews 0)
STUMPS: Sri Lanka, all out 294 after 87.4 overs (Pradeep 17)
22 Streak of captains winning the toss in SCG Tests and electing to bat, until Clarke chose otherwise in this match.
Early celebration: Jackson Bird after getting Lahiru Thirimanne leg before. The decision was overturned. Photo: Brendan Esposito
24.13 Sri Lanka's average opening partnership over the past five Tests. The visitors' record in the past two years – 30.60 – is not significantly superior.
4 Excepting Jackson Bird's successful new-ball spell of five overs, no seamer was given more than four, as Clarke seemed compelled to ensure all got an opportunity to bowl.
SECOND-GAMER Jackson Bird marked his home debut by becoming Australia's unlikely saviour after Sri Lanka showed the stomach sadly lacking in Melbourne to at least make a contest of the series finale in Sydney.
Australia v Sri Lanka, SCG - Day One
Michael Hussey leads Australia on to the field at the start of the test against Sri Lanka at the SCG. Photo: Brendan Esposito
The Australians remain hot favourites to complete a series whitewash against the world No. 6 but were forced to wait longer than expected before they could reap the rewards of their bold gamble at the selection table.
Bird was set to sit out the final Test of the summer but a greener than usual SCG pitch persuaded Australian selectors to unleash a four-pronged pace attack at the venue for the first time in nearly 60 years.
If not for an overrule by video umpire Nigel Llong, the 26-year-old, who had to leave the mainland for a crack at first-class cricket, would have taken a fairytale maiden five-for in just his second appearance in the baggy green.
''I grew up here for 24 years and it was good to have my friends and family here and do well in front of them,'' Bird said.
''I don't think I felt like I had a point to prove, it was nice to go back to my home ground.''
Although being the seventh fast bowler picked this summer, Bird's strong start to his Test career has left him in contention to book a seat on the plane to England later this year.
Sri Lanka defied modest expectations to avoid collapsing until late in the first day, but if not for Bird the visitors could have posted a far more challenging first innings than the 294 they managed after being sent in by Michael Clarke.
At 5-250 in the final session, the Sri Lankans were well placed to put pressure on Australia's new-look top order but lost 5-44 to uproot the foundations they had diligently laid down.
''The odd ball was doing a little bit. If you bash the wicket you got a little bit more out of it,'' said Bird, the best of Australia's bowlers with 4-41.
''We probably bowled the right length towards the end of the day when there wasn't much movement.
''In the morning we didn't utilise conditions as much as we should have.
''At lunch we had a bit of a chat and we felt we probably bowled two sides of the wicket.
''[We were] a little bit short with the new ball and probably weren't patient enough. I thought in the second session we were pretty good.
''Towards the end of the session we built up a bit of pressure and then the last session we built up that pressure and got the wickets.''
The most inexperienced member of Australia's five-man attack, Bird was clearly the home side's most consistent performer.
Whereas Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, who both possess the raw pace lacking in Bird's game, copped some rough treatment at times, the adopted Tasmanian was unerring in his approach, which has been likened to former great Glenn McGrath.
''It's always nice to get comparisons to one of the greats of the game - it's only my second Test match and McGrath took 500 Test wickets,'' said Bird, who bowled into the wind for much of the day.
''I've got a lot of hard work to do before I can even get close to Glenn but it's always nice to hear comparisons like that.''
Bird, who played his grade cricket with Manly in Sydney, had opening pair Dimuth Karunaratne and Tillakaratne Dilshan caught behind the wicket after finding steep bounce, then collected the scalps of tailenders Rangana Herath and Suranga Lakmal to finish off the visitors.
In between he had fly-in replacement Lahiru Thirimanne given out lbw first ball only to be denied the chance of snaring a hat-trick after the batsman successfully had the decision overturned.
Thirimanne's fighting 91, made after more than 3½ hours of graft, has given the Sri Lankans a fighting chance of posting a historic maiden Test victory in Australia.
The onus is now on Australia's new-look top order to avoid a slip-up on Friday or else risk being exposed in the final innings to last year's leading wicket-taker, spinner Herath.
Nathan Lyon extracted enough spin and bounce from the first-day pitch to leave the Sri Lankans thinking their bowling talisman can have an impact later in the game.
''It's a good thing we didn't have to go out and bat for a nasty couple of overs in the end,'' Bird said.
STATE OF PLAY
If it seemed incongruous that Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara last month cited 23-year-old Lahiru Thirimanne as one of the three young batsmen to succeed the team's veteran greats, despite not being a part of the Test squad, this innings showed why. While the left-hander was saved by video intervention after he was given out leg-before for a golden duck and also seemed awkward at times against the short ball, the more significant legacy of his innings was his impressive strokeplay. Given the pressure Sri Lanka faced after it lost Mahela Jayawardene during the second session, it was admirable how the inexperienced Thirimanne, one of his team's four injury replacements for this match, took control from his captain.
Given Jackson Bird was the most likely seamer to make way had Australia plumped for a conventional bowling attack – three seamers, one spinner – it was fortunate he was playing. By lunch he had removed both of Sri Lanka's openers. He also had the scalp of Sri Lanka's best batsman for the day, Thirimanne, before it was withdrawn after a video review. For most of the day the right-armer had the dual honour of being Australia's most threatening and most economical bowler, not conceding more than three runs an over in any of his first six spells. One frustration was that Australia's surfeit of seamers meant he was not given the long spells to which he is both suited and accustomed.
PLAY OF THE DAY: MAHELA JAYAWARDENE (SL)
For all the admiration Jayawardene has earned in his career, few Australians have seen that first-hand. In his preceding 12 innings here, he had reached 50 only once and averaged a paltry 25.67. Despite the burden of that poor record, the captain selflessly promoted himself to No.3 to cover for the injured Sangakkara. While he survived a rare Mike Hussey slips lapse on four, for the vast majority of his 154-minute innings he was clearly on top of Australia's bowlers. His two boundaries off Peter Siddle in the first over after lunch were superb, while he also flayed Nathan Lyon for a six and a four – very nearly two sixes – in the over after the second drinks break.