Pallekele: Kusal Mendis struck a superb maiden century Thursday as Sri Lanka fought their way back into contention in the first Test against Australia, opening up a lead of 167 runs at tea on the third day in Pallekele.
Playing in his seventh Test, Mendis was unbeaten at the break on 157 after substantial partnerships with Dinesh Chandimal and then Dhananjay de Silva as Sri Lanka reached 253 for five in their second innings.
While the first two days of a rain-affected match were dominated by the bowlers, Mendis managed to tame what had appeared to be a hostile track in an innings that featured 19 fours and a six.
Starting the day on 6 for 1, still 80 runs behind the Australians, the hosts were soon in even deeper trouble when Dimuth Karunaratne was judged lbw against Mitchell Starc without adding to the overnight score.
His departure for a duck brought Mendis to the crease and the 21-year-old began to turn the course of the game with a solid rearguard innings that became increasingly expansive as the day progressed.
Mendis and Chandimal put on 117 runs in their fifth wicket partnership, with the Australian bowlers hit by the loss of spinner Steve O’Keefe with a pulled hamstring.
After Chandimal was out lbw for 42 off Marsh’s bowling, de Silva provided Mendis with more solid support, reaching the break unbeaten on 24.
Mendis brought up his hundred by slog-sweeping Nathan Lyon for a six as the hosts grew in confidence and began sniffing what would be an unlikely victory over the world’s number one Test team.
Before Mendis’ innings, no player on either side had managed to score a half century in a match that was cut short in the first two days by afternoon downpours.
Adam Voges top-scored in Australia’s first innings total of 203 all out in reply to Sri Lanka’s score of 117.
Sri Lanka 117 and 253-5 in 70 overs (Kusal Mendis 157 not out, Dinesh Chandimal 42; Mitchell Starc 2-44)
Australia 203 all out in 79.2 overs (Adam Voges 47; Rangana Herath 4-49, Lakshan Sandakan 4-58).