PALLEKELE (SRI LANKA), July 28: A brilliant maiden century by Kusal Mendis helped Sri Lanka claw their way back into contention in the first cricket Test against Australia today and open up a 196-run lead before play was suspended early due to bad light.
At the close of play on the third day here, Sri Lanka had reached 282 for six, with Mendis unbeaten on 169, as the hosts gained the upper hand in a gripping contest against the world�s number one Test team.
Mendis� knock was the highest score by any Sri Lankan against Australia at home and came after no player from either side had managed to even score a half century in the first innings.
Mendis, who came to the crease in the first over of the day after the early dismissal of Dimuth Karunaratne, hardly put a foot wrong in his 243-ball innings which has so far featured 20 boundaries.
He played Australia�s seamers with confidence before cutting loose against the spin bowlers with an array of boundaries.
He reached his century in spectacular fashion when he slog-swept Nathan Lyon for six and then reached his 150 by cutting the same bowler for four.
The 21-year-old, playing in his seventh Test, is closing in on the record score by a Sri Lankan against Australia and now only needs to overhaul Kumar Sangakkara�s 192 at Hobart in 2007.
The visitors� bowlers struggled in the absence of spinner Steve O�Keefe who pulled a hamstring, as first Dinesh Chandimal and then Dhananjaya de Silva gave Mendis some solid support.
Mendis and Chandimal put on 117 runs in their fifth wicket partnership.
After Chandimal was out lbw for 42 off Marsh�s bowling, the debutant de Silva then scored 36 in a partnership worth 71 before becoming Lyon�s 200th Test victim, caught at long-on by Usman Khawaja.
Sri Lanka only managed another eight runs before bad light and then rain brought an early end to proceedings for the third afternoon in a row but they now have an unlikely sniff of victory.
Starting the day on 6 for 1, still 80 runs behind the Australians, the hosts were soon in even deeper trouble when Karunaratne was judged lbw against Mitchell Starc without adding to the overnight score.
The hosts also lost their skipper Angelo Mathews and the opener Kaushal Silva in the morning session before Mendis launched the revival act.
A total of 75 overs so far have been lost due to rain and bad light but the steady succession of wickets on the first two days means that the match is still expected to yield a result.
Adam Voges top-scored in Australia�s first innings total of 203 all out in reply to Sri Lanka�s score of 117.
The match is the first in a three-Test series which will also see the Australians travel to Galle and then Colombo.
Sri Lanka 1st innings: 117
Australia 1st innings: 203 all out
Sri Lanka 2nd innings (Overnight 6 for one): K Perera lbw b Starc 4, K Silva lbw b O�Keefe 7, D Karunaratne lbw b Starc 0, K Mendis not out 169, A Mathews c Burns b Lyon 9, D Chandimal lbw b Marsh 42, D de Silva c Khawaja b Lyon 36, D Perera not out 5. Extras: (LB-10) 10. Total: (for 6 wickets in 80 overs) 282. Fall of wicket: 1-6, 2-6, 3-45, 4-86, 5-203, 6-274. Bowling: Starc 12-4-44-2, Hazlewood 13-3-41-0, O�Keefe 16.2-3-42-1, Lyon 26-2-98-2, Warner 1-0-10-0, Voges 1.4-0-3-0, Marsh 9-1-33-1, Smith 1-0-1-0. � AFP