Victory in sight: The Australians celebrate after dismissing Lahiru Thirimanne at the SCG. Photo: Getty Images
THE tale of two tails is an explanation of why Matthew Wade will leave Sydney with a maiden home Test century to his name and why Sri Lanka will, barring a Fanie de Villiers-type effort from one of their bowlers, finish their sixth tour of Australia still without a win.
Had Australia's bowlers been as cavalier with the bat as Sri Lanka's were on day one, Wade would not have had the opportunity to post a half-century, let alone double that with a stunning unbeaten 102.
Had Sri Lanka's bowlers been as resolute with the bat as Australia's, they would have been defending a first innings total well above 300, rather than just below it, and would have not had to overcome a deficit of 138 in their second chance at the crease.
Instead, they will start day four with a lead of 87 with Dinesh Chandimal needing uncharacteristic support from Rangana Herath and Sri Lanka's last two batsmen, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep.
Should Sri Lanka fail to survive beyond lunch, their only encouragement may come from Australia having failed to chase 117 at the SCG 19 years ago, when South Africa's de Villiers claimed 6-43.
The efforts of Peter Siddle (38), and to a lesser extent Mitch Johnson (13) and Jackson Bird (6 not out), highlighted the benefit of tailenders showing some grit. When Sri Lanka's first bowler came to the crease, their innings was finished in 15 overs. Despite Australia boasting an even longer tail, with five specialist bowlers, their innings lasted for an additional 41.4 overs once the first tailender, Johnson, arrived at the crease. Australia's tail was on the verge of wagging for three times longer than Sri Lanka's when Michael Clarke declared at 9-432 in order to get four overs at the Sri Lankan openers before lunch.
While Wade is still to prove entirely convincing at international level with his glove work, reinforced by him missing a sharp chance off top scorer Dimuth Karunaratne later in the day, his reputation as a batsman grows.
Wade, who resumed on 47, thrived on the promotion to No.6. He shared a 77-run partnership with Siddle in the first session but even then there seemed little realistic chance to score a century when the seamer was followed promptly by Mitchell Starc (2) and Nathan Lyon (4). Despite only being on 70 at the fall of the ninth wicket, Wade's decision to hit more lustily paid off spectacularly, although it was also thanks to the diligence of Bird.
Once the left-hander passed 90, Sri Lanka resorted to loading the off-side with five outfielders. It proved futile as the Victorian left-hander picked gaps twice in the 107th over to, somehow, reach the rope. It was with the second of those boundaries that Wade reached his century, and he celebrated wildly in response.
While Bird was unable to survive long enough to shepherd Johnson to a century in Melbourne, and contributed only six of the 39 runs he and Wade scored, his ability to survive for 11 deliveries was certainly appreciated by Wade.
This SCG Test, despite the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy already being out of reach, provided an opportunity for Sri Lanka to salvage some credibility. As individuals, a clique have been able to do just that. As a group, however, they provided more evidence of why they are anchored to the bottom half of the Test rankings.
They fought their way back into contention to win the match with a second-innings century partnership between opener Karunaratne and captain Mahela Jayawardene that ended only two runs shy of pushing the score into positive territory.
While it was not ideal to lose two wickets before setting Australia a fourth-innings total, Sri Lanka should have been buoyed for two reasons: that they boasted a deeper batting line-up than Australia and that they had a spinner, Herath, capable of exploiting an ageing pitch on the last two days of the match.
It was therefore unforgivable that the next two batsmen, Lahiru Thirimanne and Thilan Samaraweera, departed so recklessly.
The challenge of setting Australia something more than a token target was left to Jayawardene and Angelo Mathews, but that partnership produced only 20 runs after uncertain calling and brilliant David Warner fielding ran out the vice-captain for 16 with the lead at only 40.
The ultimate blow came in the following over when Jayawardene, in his last innings as captain, edged to his Australian counterpart Clarke off Siddle for 60, to expose the tail.