COLOMBO // The morning session today will be crucial for Australia after Phil Hughes battled his way to an unbeaten Test century to guide his team to a respectable 209 for three against Sri Lanka at the end of the fourth day.
Rangana Herath, the spinner, took three wickets and Angelo Mathews, a centurion for Sri Lanka, was banking on quick wickets today, and not to allow Australia to build on their 52-run lead in the second innings. Australia are ahead 1-0 in the three-Test series.
Hughes carried the fight for the tourists yesterday, recording his third Test hundred - the first time he has reached three figures in more than two years.
Herath returned three for 54, as Sri Lanka looked to press home their 157-run first-innings lead, built largely around an unbeaten maiden Test century from Mathews.
"I think the team is in a good position to win. We have 90 overs tomorrow and we have to take three or four wickets in the first session," Mathews said.
Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, agreed the morning session could be decisive - although he did not rule out his side pulling off an unlikely victory.
"Yes [it is] definitely a big day, I guess the first session is crucial," he said yesterday. "There is a bit more turn out there now, certainly some reverse swing. If we can score a few runs and take a decent lead you never know."
"In my mind this Test is certainly not over. Unfortunately there's still a chance we could lose it if we don't bat well but on the plus side I think there's a possibility, even a minor one, that if we can get a decent lead, 150-run lead, there's a chance we can still win this Test match."
The left-handed Hughes faced 202 balls, hitting a six and 16 fours, and added three key half-century partnerships with Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh and Ricky Ponting.
Watson fell lbw to Herath for 21, with Australia's total on 62, and the left-arm bowler also accounted for Shaun Marsh (18), in unusual circumstances.
Marsh, who made 81 in the first innings, played forward to Herath and was adjudged caught at forward short-leg. Television replays suggested that the ball had missed both bat and glove - though the batsman, surprisingly, did not ask for a review.
Ponting made 28 before edging Herath to Mahela Jayawardene at slip to leave Australia 188 for three. Clarke joined Hughes in the middle and was eight not out at the close.
Earlier, Mathews made an unbeaten 105 before Sri Lanka were dismissed for 473.
Sri Lanka resumed the day on 428 for six, but lost their last four wickets for 45 runs. Mathews faced 269 balls in a restrained innings, scoring 10 boundaries.