Galle: Michael Hussey rescued Australia with a battling 95 after Sri Lanka stung the tourists with pace and spin in the first Test on Wednesday.
The crafty left-hander narrowly missed his 14th century as Australia, caught on a difficult dusty wicket, recovered from a shaky 157-5 at tea to 273 all out by stumps on the opening day.
Former captain Ricky Ponting was the only other batsman to resist the Sri Lankan bowlers, making a fluent 44 even as the top order floundered around him.
Seamer Suranga Lakmal and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath claimed three wickets each to give Sri Lanka the edge in the series opener at the Galle International Stadium.
Hussey was last man out, leg-before wicket to Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, after a heroic four-hour knock that included three sixes.
Sri Lanka had one over to face before close, but the umpires called off play for bad light as soon as the batsmen had walked in.
Herath, a 33-year-old playing only his 28th Test despite making his debut at the same ground 12 years ago, finished with three for 54 from 24 accurate overs.
Lakmal, whose previous five Tests had fetched him just 10 wickets, returned with three for 55.
There was no sign of the panic to follow when Australian captain Michael Clarke won the toss and decided to bat after the start was delayed by an hour due to overnight rains.
Australia raced to 28-0 in six overs, 22 of them coming from the blade of Shane Watson, who smashed Chanaka Welegedara for four boundaries in one over.
But Dilshan introduced Herath in the seventh over and the bowler met with immediate success when Watson was caught behind off his first delivery.
Lakmal was rewarded for a probing first spell when he had opener Phillip Hughes fending a rising ball to Tharanga Paranavitana in the slips, the batsman going for just 12 runs.
Clarke helped Ponting retrieve the situation by adding 55 for the third wicket on either side of the lunch interval.
But Clarke fell for 23 soon after the resumption. Sri Lanka asked for a television review after umpire Richard Kettleborough turned down a confident appeal for leg-before from Herath.
Replays confirmed the ball would have hit middle stump and TV umpire Tony Hill declared Clarke out.
Herath removed Ponting when the well-set batsman attempted a mighty heave off a ball that spun sharply, spooning an easy catch to Angelo Mathews at deep mid-off.
Ponting, the only member of the touring side to have played a Test in Sri Lanka before this trip, batted confidently to hit six boundaries.
Usman Khawaja was dismissed for 21, but Brad Haddin (24) helped Hussey add 48 for the sixth wicket in the final session.
Australia awarded Test caps to seamer Trent Copeland, 25, and off-spinner Nathan Lyon, 23, while Khawaja was preferred to Shaun Marsh for the number six position.
Sri Lanka left out unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis and decided to go with two seamers in Welegedara and Lakmal, and two slow bowlers in Herath and Suraj Randiv.