Sri Lanka’s batsmen gave their side a shot at avoiding a series whitewash on Thursday before Australia struck back in the final session on day one of the third and final test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Clarke’s bold decision could have backfired but the selection of a four-man pace attack paid off with six wickets in the final session.
Jackson Bird finished with 4-41 and Mitchell Starc took 3-71 as Sri Lanka slumped from a strong position of 250-5.
"Pushing up into that breeze was pretty tough and it was hot out there,” Bird said. “If you bashed the wicket, you got a little bit more out of it. We probably bowled the right length at the end of the day.
“We probably didn’t utilize conditions as well as we should have done.”
Clarke asked Sri Lanka to bat first in the expectation that his four-man pace attack Australia’s first at the SCG since 1954-55 could exploit a green wicket.
But after Bird dismissed opener Dimuth Karunaratne for 5, Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle struggled to send the ball down straight enough or hard enough to disrupt the tourists’ rhythm.
Jaywardene made 72 for his first overseas half-century since November 2009 and Thirimanne, a replacement for the injured Kumar Sangakkara, overcame a shaky start that included the reversal of a first-ball leg-before-wicket dismissal and a thick edge off Nathan Lyon over the slips.
Thirimanne dropped to his knee in an attempt to hit Lyon over cover but miscued toward cover point. Warner raced around and made his ground in time to take a catch that brought the SCG crowd to its feet.
“I’m really disappointed because it was a great opportunity for me after a long break from test cricket,” Thirimanne said. “The wicket was really good to bat on.”
The wicket ended Sri Lanka’s chance of posting an imposing first-innings total and exposed the tail as the last five wickets fell for 44 runs a third batting collapse in a week following the team’s defeat by an innings and 201 runs in Melbourne.