SYDNEY - Australia edged ahead of Sri Lanka on day two of the third and final test, reaching 342-6 at stumps Friday for a 48-run lead over the tourists.
Australia's batsmen were confident of big scores on a friendly wicket after dismissing Sri Lanka for 294 at the end of the opening day but their momentum was checked by the visiting spinners as the pitch cracked in the warm Sydney sunshine.
"The pitch is doing a bit already and it's only day two," said Phil Hughes, who top-scored with 87. "It did take a bit of turn and it was quite difficult to drive. I never felt 100 per cent in, even though I got a few runs."
Hughes and David Warner (85) both fell just short of centuries, while Michael Clarke made 50 and Mike Hussey was run out for 25 in what could have been his final test innings.
Rangana Herath and Tillakaratne Dilshan kept up the pressure but a lack of world-class pace options mean Sri Lanka still faces a struggle to avoid a series whitewash.
Australia had looked comfortable even after the early run out of Ed Cowan for just 4; the opener dawdling for a first run and hesitating for a second as he was caught out of his ground at the non-striker's end.
Warner got things underway with a first-ball boundary and repeatedly found the rope with a series of punchy cover drives to race his way to 31 runs from 21 balls, putting him in line for a knock to rival his 69-ball ton against India last year.
At the other end, Hughes cut his way to a half century at a more sedate pace and Sri Lanka looked to be in trouble, especially with captain Mahele Jayawardene unwilling to give Herath a bowl before lunch.
"I had a little chat with Mahele and it was a bit odd but he really felt the offspin would cause more problems for the left-hander at the crease," Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford said. "We were close to going for the double spin option."
When Herath made his bow, 127-1 became 195-3.
Warner fell short of his fourth test ton when he sliced an attempted slog off Dilshan to Dhammika Prasad, who gathered the high ball to end the opener's 84-ball knock. And Hughes tried another cut only to edge Herath to wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal.
Australia still had Clarke, 2012's leading run scorer with an Australian record 1,595 in a calendar year, and Hussey in the middle after Sri Lanka chose not to appeal for a first-ball lbw shout against the captain. Replays suggested he would have been out.
"They didn't review it and they should have," Ford said. "It could have been a very different game. But apparently the umpire felt he might have had a nick on it and from Mahele standing at slip it was very hard to judge whether there was any bat involved."
Having announced his intention to step down after the game, Hussey strode out to a standing ovation from the SCG crowd and passed through a guard of honour from the Sri Lanka players in recognition of his 79-test career.
The respect from Sri Lanka ended there. Hussey looked composed but a risky single by his captain and a direct hit from Dimuth Karunaratne ended his innings with a run out.
Even Hussey's renowned running between the wickets was not enough to make the ground and he paused only to watch a big-screen replay before trudging off the field to a standing ovation.
Clarke, who had smashed a huge six back over Herath's head and chipped a boundary over mid-off from the next delivery, went for 50 when Karunaratne took a good running catch at midwicket off Herath.
Nuwan Pradeep got an overdue test wicket when Mitchell Johnson, batting in an unusually high position of No. 7, edged the ball through to Chandimal. The previous delivery also caught the edge but fell just short of slip.
A spirited, unbroken seventh-wicket stand between Matthew Wade and Peter Siddle of 35 turned a disappointing total into an adequate one. Wade finished with 47 to Johnson's 16.
However Australia will be eager to build its lead on day three, given the pitch appears to be going toward the spinners and away from the pacemen, and the hosts made the contentious decision to select four seamers on a traditional spinners' wicket.
No side has ever successfully chased more than 300 at the SCG and Ford said his team had put itself in contention for a first test win in Australia despite the dismal innings defeat in the second test in Melbourne.
"It would be nice to get 100 and a few more ahead," Hughes said. "Any lead in any game is gold but it would be nice to get a few more."
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