Young Sri Lankan seamer Thisara Perera claimed 4-57 to pin Pakistan against the ropes on the opening day of the third and final Test in Pallekele on Sunday.
The tourists, sent in to bat for the second time in consecutive matches, failed to adjust to the moving ball on a responsive wicket and collapsed to 4-56 soon after the first hour.
Pakistan recovered through a fifth-wicket stand of 85 between skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (40) and Asad Shafiq (54 not out) before going to tea at a shaky 5-172.
Shafiq reached his sixth Test half-century by slashing Dilhara Fernando over the slips for his seventh boundary just before tea and remains Pakistan’s last batting hope in the innings.
Mohammad Sami was unbeaten on eight as Adnan Akmal retired hurt on 10 after he was struck on the left hand by a ball from Fernando that did not rise as much as the batsman expected.
Sri Lanka, who won the first Test in Galle before the second in Colombo was drawn, are seeking their first series win in three years, after defeating New Zealand 2-0 at home in 2009.
Perera, a 23-year-old playing only his sixth Test, made an immediate impact in his maiden appearance in the series by grabbing three wickets in his first eight overs.