Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne hit a century amid another rich haul by Pakistani legspinner Yasir Shah as the decisive third and final Test began on a rousing note on Friday in Pallekele.
The hosts, sent in to bat after Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq won the toss for the third time in a row, stuttered to 8-272 in their first innings by stumps on the opening day.
Left-handed Karunaratne anchored the innings with a dogged 130, his second Test century following the 152 against New Zealand last December in Christchurch.
Yasir ended the day with 4-77, taking his tally in the series to 21 wickets, the most by a Pakistani bowler in a three-Test rubber in Sri Lanka.
Yasir enabled Pakistan to keep the runs in check despite conditions favouring the batsmen on the evenly paced pitch after initial moisture had dried up.
The series is locked 1-1 after Pakistan won the first Test by 10 wickets and Sri Lanka responded with a seven-wicket victory in the second match.
Pakistan secured an early break with the wicket of Kaushal Silva, who had scored 125 in Galle and 80 in Colombo.
This time, Silva made nine when he was caught behind off left-arm seamer Rahat Ali, who was picked alongside Ehsan Ali and Imran Khan in a new-look pace attack for the decider.
The left-handed pair of Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga put on 91 for the second wicket on either side of lunch to lift the score to 1-106, before three wickets fell for 31 runs.
Tharanga, who replaced Kumar Sangakkara for the match, made 46 when he edged Yasir to slip where Younis Khan took a smart catch diving in front.
Lahiru Thirimanne (11) and skipper Angelo Mathews (three) fell in successive overs from Yasir to mistimed drives as Sri Lanka slipped to 4-137.
Jehan Mubarak, recalled to the Test side after almost eight years, helped Karunaratne add 67 for the fifth wicket before he was stumped off Yasir for 25.
Azhar Ali, who had taken two wickets with his part-time spin in 43 previous Tests, doubled his tally with the wickets of Karunaratne and Dhammika Prasad off successive balls.
Karunaratne was stumped as he attempted a big heave and Prasad holed out to Yasir at deep square leg to reduce Sri Lanka to 7-248.
Dinesh Chandimal was lbw to Rahat for 24, leaving Tharindu Kaushal (17) and Suranga Lakmal (one) unbeaten at stumps.
Both sides made four changes each for the decider with Pakistan bringing in batsman Shan Masood along with the fresh pace attack.
With Sangakkara opting out of the decider and batsman Kithuruwan Vithanage showing poor form, Sri Lanka recalled two left-handers in Tharanga and 34-year-old Mubarak.