PALLEKELE - Skipper Angelo Mathews battled his way to an unbeaten 77 as Sri Lanka seized the advantage in the series-deciding third and final Test against Pakistan in Pallekele on Sunday. The hosts gained a first innings lead of 63 runs and then recovered from 35-3 in their second knock to post 228-5 by stumps on a rain-interrupted, but absorbing, third day's play.

Mathews led from the front against a tiring Pakistani attack, adding 45 for the fourth wicket with Upul Tharanga (48) and 81 for the fifth with Jehan Mubarak (35). Mubarak marked his recall to the Test side after almost eight years with a gutsy 35 before he was caught at short-leg off Yasir Shah in the final session. Dinesh Chandimal returned to form with 39 not out, helping his captain put on 67 for the sixth wicket before bad light ended the day's play early.

Sri Lanka will begin the fourth day with a commanding overall lead of 291 runs with five wickets in hand, having a clear advantage on the wearing pitch to break the 1-1 deadlock in the series. "We need to bat one more session to push Pakistan out of the game," said Mubarak. "The new ball is due in 10 overs and if we can survive that, we can get a lead of about 380. There are two more days left and there will be a result either way. Something like 380 will be a good target, I think. It will help us to attack the Pakistan batsmen."

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis admitted his team had their backs against the wall, but vowed to fight until the end. "It's going to be tough from here, but we are going to fight and not let it go easily," the former fast bowler said. "We will try and slow down the game, fight hard to get some more wickets and then see how it goes. This pitch is still good for batting and we should try and make a game of it. The reason why we are in this position is because we did not bat well in our first innings. And then it became tough to control the game from there."

The tourists added six runs to their overnight score of 209-9 before they were all out for 215 in the day's second over in reply to Sri Lanka 's first innings total of 278. When Sri Lanka batted a second time, left-arm seamer Rahat Ali grabbed two quick wickets and new ball partner Ehsan Adil took one to leave the hosts tottering in the morning session. Rahat bowled first innings century-maker Dimuth Karunaratne for 10 and yorked Lahiru Thirimanne for no score in an inspired eight-over opening spell.

In between, Ehsan Adil had Kaushal Silva caught in the slips by a diving Misbah-ul Haq for three. Tharanga and Mathews repaired the early damage on either side of lunch before Yasir broke the partnership. Having had a leg-before review turned down by the TV umpire off the previous ball, the leg-spinner forced Tharanga to edge the next delivery to Azhar Ali at short-leg.

Play was held up twice by passing showers in the morning session and once again before tea, keeping the hard-working ground staff on their toes as they rushed in the covers to guard both the wicket and the outfield. Pakistan's six runs in the morning all came off the bat of Sarfraz Ahmed, who remained unbeaten on 78. Last man Imran Khan, who had not faced a ball in four previous Tests, survived for seven deliveries before he was bowled by off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal for zero.

Kaushal, Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep finished with three wickets each. Pakistan won the first Test in Galle by 10 wickets and Sri Lanka took the second in Colombo by seven wickets.

Scoreboard

SRI LANKA 1ST INNINGS: 278

PAKISTAN 1ST INNINGS:

(OVERNIGHT: 209-9):

Shan Masood lbw b Prasad 13

Ahmed Shehzad c Chandimal b Pradeep 21

Azhar Ali c Karunaratne b Pradeep 52

Younus Khan run out 3

Asad Shafiq lbw b Prasad 15

Sarfraz Ahmed not out 78

Misbah-ul Haq lbw b Pradeep 6

Ehsan Adil lbw b Kaushal 0

Yasir Shah c Chandimal b Prasad 18

Rahat Ali lbw b Kaushal 2

Imran Khan b Kaushal 0

EXTRAS: (lb4, w1, nb2) 7

TOTAL: (all out, 66 overs) 215

FOW: 1-32, 2-40, 3-45, 4-91, 5-135, 6-151, 7-152, 8-197, 9-202, 10-215

BOWLING: Prasad 19-1-78-3 (w1), Lakmal 14-1-64-0 (nb2), Pradeep 15-5-29-3, Mathews 4-1-3-0, Kaushal 14-1-37-3.

SRI LANKA 2ND INNINGS:

D Karunaratne b Rahat 10

K Silva c Misbah b Ehsan 3

U Tharanga c Azhar b Yasir 48

L Thirimanne b Rahat 0

A Mathews not out 77

J Mubarak c Azhar b Yasir 35

D Chandimal not out 39

EXTRAS: (b4, lb9, w3) 16

TOTAL: (5 wkts, 69.4 overs) 228

FOW: 1-12, 2-22, 3-35, 4-80, 5-161

BOWLING: Rahat 15-3-58-2 (w1), Ehsan 14-4-46-1 (w1), Imran 10.4-2-27-0 (w1), Yasir 25-4-70-2, Azhar 5-1-14-0

TOSS: Pakistan

UMPIRES: Ian Gould (ENG) and Paul Reiffel (AUS)

TV UMPIRE: Sundaram Ravi (IND)

MATCH REFEREE: Chris Broad (ENG)