Khawaja, Starc return to form as Australia tighten noose around Sri Lanka

Home side have set Islanders a daunting target of 516 runs

Khawaja, Starc return to form as Australia tighten noose around Sri Lanka PHOTO: AFP

Usman Khawaja found his scoring touch and fast bowler Mitchell Starc returned to his fiery best as Australia moved within sight of victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka at the Manuka Oval on Sunday.

After Australia, on course for a first series win since beating England early last year, set the tourists an improbable 516 for victory openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne survived some nervy moments to take Sri Lanka to 17 before bad light ended the third day's play.

Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake told reporters his side had to take it "stage by stage, session by session".

"The boys are aware that they have to break it down into portions and take it hourly and try to bat as positive as they could," he said.

Starc picked up his 10th five-wicket haul, and his first since his 5-34 against South Africa in Durban last March, as Australia bundled out Sri Lanka for 215 to take a first-innings lead of 319.

Australia, who won the opening Test in Brisbane by an innings and 40 runs, did not get off to a great start in their second innings as they lost Marcus Harris, Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne cheaply.

But Khawaja and first-innings centurion Travis Head combined for a stand of 159 as Australia declared their second innings closed on 196-3.

Captain Tim Paine called the batsmen in after Khawaja completed his eighth test hundred. The left-hander enjoyed the moment, having scored only one fifty in the home summer. He remained unbeaten on 101 while Head made 59 not out.

Earlier, Starc, who got the wicket of Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal on day two, bowled with pace and aggression to pick up the first two to fall on Sunday, then returned after lunch to polish off the tail and finish with figures of 5-54.

Kusal Perera did not return to bat for the touring side after being hit on his helmet by a delivery from fast bowler Jhye Richardson. He retired hurt on 29 but Ratnayake suggested he may return on Monday.

Karunaratne, who was taken to hospital on Saturday after being hit by a Pat Cummins bouncer, returned to the crease after Perera's departure and completed a gritty half-century before edging Starc to Kurtis Patterson at gully to be out for 59. Starc took 15 wickets in five tests during the India series and the opener against Sri Lanka but faced heavy criticism for some wayward bowling that prompted calls for Paine to take the new ball off his hands.

"I've been working a fair bit in the last few weeks ... I'm my best coach. I know what works for me best," Starc said. "Wickets are a wonderful thing, they help everything else."

The left-arm quick was back to his best on Sunday, testing batsmen with short-pitched deliveries, one of which accounted for Dhananjaya de Silva, who lost his balance going for a pull shot and dislodged a bail with his bat to be out for 25. Starc dismissed Dilruwan Perera and Vishwa Fernando in his first over after lunch to complete his first five-wicket haul.