An early wicket, a needless run out and Muttiah Muralitharan's first wicket in his final Test left India with an uphill task in their climb towards safety in the first Test.
After the Sri Lankan lower order enabled them to add 264 runs to their overnight total and declare their first innings at 520 for 8 at tea on Tuesday, India finished Day 3 at 140 for 3. While Virender Sehwag (85 not out) neared his 20th Test ton, VVS Laxman (18 not out) made a cautious start but the Indians are still 181 adrift of the follow-on.
Lasith Malinga, who had earlier contributed with the willow, marked his return to Test cricket by striking off the second ball of the Indian innings. The slinger trapped Gautam Gambhir (2) lbw.
Just when Sehwag and Rahul Dravid (18) looked set to avoid any more hiccups, the middle order batsman ran himself out.
Just as Sachin Tendulkar (8) was getting his eye in, Muralitharan was introduced into the attack. The offie won the mini-battle of the game, the clash between the highest run-getter and the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, trapping Tendulkar in front of the stumps.
Fears of a second successive washed-out day were averted as the rain stayed away but the dark cloud over India's bowling line-up continued.
Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun made good use of the moisture in the wicket in the first session, but ran into trouble in the second session.
Sharma (3-145) struck off his second ball of the day, having Tharanga Paranavitana caught behind. Eight balls later, debutant Mithun (4-105) was rewarded with his second scalp when he rapped Thilan Samaraweera (0) on the pad.
Though Mahela Jayawardene (48) and Angelo Mathews (41) looked set for big knocks, Sharma got rid of them before lunch. Ishant broke the 62-run fifth-wicket stand by trapping Jayawardene lbw and Laxman then took a sharp catch to dismiss Mathews.
At 344 for six India's hopes of restricting the hosts to around 400 were raised. However, Rangana Herath (80 not out) had other plans as the left-arm spinner first put on 49 runs with wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene (27) and then added another 115 with Malinga (64) to take Sri Lanka to a big first-innings total.
But the tail wagged merrily, allowing Muralitharan to have a go, which he did briefly, after walking out to a guard of honour from the Indians.