Australia took early charge of the second Test after bowling out Sri Lanka for a hugely disappointing 174 soon after tea on the opening day in Pallekele on Thursday.
Fast bowler Ryan Harris led the way with three wickets and Trent Copeland, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon picked up two each in good batting conditions at the Pallekele International Stadium.
Australia, hoping to clinch the three-match series after winning the first Test in Galle by 125 runs, raced to 60 for no loss before bad light ended play 5.2 overs early.
Shane Watson returned unbeaten on 36 with six boundaries and Phillip Hughes was on a watchful 23 at stumps. The hosts, electing to bat after winning the toss, never recovered after they lost half the side for 76 by lunch, the top three falling by the eighth over with the score at just 14.
Vice-captain Angelo Mathews cracked three sixes and six boundaries in an aggressive 58 to boost the total, but seven batsmen failed to reach double figures. Former captain Kumar Sangakkara chipped in with 48, adding 43 for the fourth wicket with Thilan Samaraweera and 52 for the sixth with Mathews.
The elegant left-hander looked set for a major knock when he lost his wicket to part-time bowler Mike Hussey, whose slow-medium delivery was driven to Hughes at short-cover. It was only the third wicket in 61 Tests for Hussey and compounded Sri Lanka's woes on a wicket that had rolled out well in favour of the batsmen. Harris struck the first blow in his second over when he forced Tharanga Paranavitana to edge a catch to wicket-keeper Brad Haddin. It was the second successive duck for the left-handed opener, who had failed to score in the second innings at Galle.