SRI LANKA 336 & 2-65 (Karuanaratne 30, Sangakkara 18*, Watson 1-10) trailing AUSTRALIA 5-450 dec and 278 (Warner 68, Clarke 57, Herath 5-95) by 327 runs at Bellerive Oval, Hobart. Stumps, day four.
AUSTRALIA needs eight final-day wickets in Hobart to record its first Test win of the summer against Sri Lanka, but will have to do it with Ben Hilfenhaus and Michael Clarke both shackled by injury.
Sri Lanka was set a victory target of 393 after Australia was dismissed for 278 just before tea on day four at Bellerive Oval. The home team seemed on track to easily set a 400-plus target as Michael Clarke produced a sparkling half-century from only 43 deliveries. Shortly after that milestone, however, the captain was forced to retire with what Cricket Australia confirmed was a suspected right-hamstring injury.
Last summer he injured the same hamstring and missed part of the ODI tri-series, in which Ricky Ponting temporarily resumed the captaincy before his omission.
Despite the injury Clarke took his place in the slips for the entire final session as Sri Lanka began its chase. His presence was not entirely positive for Australia as he squandered a straightforward opportunity to remove Kumar Sangakkara for three off Nathan Lyon, barely even getting his hands to the thigh-high chance.
Sri Lanka will start day five at 2-65 with its two great batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara (18 not out) annd captain Mahela Jayawardene (5 not out), at the crease.
If was to score another 328 runs and claim victory it would clearly be a record for it. On the 19 occasions it has chased in a Test outside the subcontinent it has won only twice, in England in August 1998 and in Zimbabwe in December 1999. In both matches its victory target was only 35.
Australia's final-session breakthroughs on day four were made by Shane Watson and Mitch Starc. Watson had first-innings century-maker Tillakaratne Dilshan caught behind for 11 from his first delivery, which pitched on off-stump and seamed away from the right-hander. Starc produced a great example of his most threatening delivery, a fast yorker, to bowl left-hander Dimuth Karunaratne for 30.
Australia made a great start to day four at Bellerive Oval with openers David Warner (68) and Ed Cowan (56) contributing a century partnership, their second in Tests, but fell within four overs of each other late in the first session.
Phillip Hughes (16), Watson (5) and Matthew Wade (11) all feel cheaply after lunch as Australia chased quick runs, seemingly with an eye to a declaration.
Australia's batting was steadied, yet again, by Clarke and Mike Hussey (31 not out). They added 57 runs promptly, with Clarke particularly effective. The captain reached his half-century from just 43 deliveries in another imperious batting display.
In the same over that Clarke passed 50 he turned Chanaka Welegedara to forward square-leg for two runs and then immediately called for the attention of team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris. Within a minute Clarke had retired his innings and was leaving the ground, with Cricket Australia confirming it was due to a suspected right hamstring injury that was to be formally scanned after the end of play.
After Clarke's departure Australia's tailenders tried to hit out to support Hussey. Even the injured Hilfenhaus chose to bat but Sri Lanka nevertheless kept the target to under 400.
Left-arm spinner Herath recovered from his wicket-less first innings to claim 5-95 in the second and increase the likelihood he will finish ahead of England's Graeme Swann as the leading wicket-taker of 2012.
Australia began day four at 0-27 and faced few nervous moments early, comfortably handling for Sri Lankan seamers Shaminda Eranga and Chanaka Welegedara. During their bowling partnership Australia scored 39 runs.
The introduction of the slower but more accurate Angelo Mathews and Nuwan Kulasekera successfully stymied Australia's scoring rate and triggered an 16-over stint where the home team failed to hit a boundary.
The boundary drought was broken when left-armer Welegedara was introduced. His first bounce was an appetising bouncer that Warner comfortably pulled to the square-leg boundary to move to 52, marking the first time he had scored consecutive Test half-centuries.
Australia scored notable boundaries in each of the next three overs. In the 38th Warner blasted Rangana Herath over wide long-on for six, in the 39th Cowan cut Welegedara behind point for his half-century - which featured eight boundaries, double what Warner managed in his milestone - but clearly the most notable occurred in the 40th.
As left-arm spinner Herath was about to deliver Warner employed a switch hit, a tactic he had previously reserved for limited-overs internationals. Instead of the ball pitching outside leg-stump and spinning further away it was perfect in his new stance to swat through the vacant forward square-leg region for a right-hander, which was technically cover-point in his customary stance.
Herath, to that stage wicketless in the match, got his revenge in the next over when he elicited an edge from Warner, who was trying the cut off the back foot, that was well caught by wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene.
Three overs' later Welegedara provided another reminder of his ability to provide the occasional gem of a delivery. Left-hander Cowan, like Hughes in the first innings, tried to defend a ball angled into him from Welegedara only to be decisively bowled between bat and pad.
Apart from Herath's haul the main highlight from Sri Lanka in the field were produced by the visitors' wicketkeeper. Prasanna Jayawardene made a lightning-quick stumping of Watson off Herath and then later took a brilliant one-handed diving catch to remove Siddle from the bowling of Welegedara.
HIGHEST FOURTH INNINGS TOTALS TO WIN A TEST AFTER AUSTRALIA SET SRI LANKA 393 TO WIN AT BELLERIVE
7-418 - West Indies v Australia, St John’s, 2003
4-414 - South Africa v Australia, Perth, 2008
4-406 - India v West Indies, Port of Spain, 1976
3-404 - Australia v England, Leeds, 1948
4-387 - India v England, Chennai, 2008
HIGHEST FOURTH INNING TOTALS - SRI LANKA
410 - v Australia, Hobart, 2007 (lost)
4-391 - v Pakistan, Colombo, 2009 (draw)
9-352 - v South Africa, Colombo, 2006 (won)
348 - v Australia, Hobart, 1989 (lost)
6-344 - v New Zealand, Hamilton, 1991 (draw)
HIGHEST SUCCESSFUL RUN CHASE IN HOBART
6-369 - Australia v Pakistan, 1999