Michael Clarke's risky strategy to use four pacemen and bowl first at the SCG has left Australia vulnerable to a resurgent Sri Lanka.

The first team to employ a quartet of quicks at the SCG in nearly six decades and choosing to bowl for the first time in 21 years, Australia were in danger of surrendering control of the third Test as Sri Lanka surged to a strong batting position. Only five teams have won at the SCG after electing to bowl first.

The SCG pitch is exceptionally dry, though well-grassed, and curator Tom Parker predicted Australia may face a tough challenge if they have to chase a reasonable target in the fourth innings.

And Clarke appeared to be favouring the hamstring he damaged before the second Test when he stretched for an edge flying over the slips cordon late yesterday.

He finished the opening day's play without treatment and appears set to bat today.

New-ball bowlers Jackson Bird (4-41 in his second Test) and Mitchell Starc (3-71 in his seventh) saved Clarke's blushes as the visitors were dismissed for 294 on the eve of stumps.

Bird said it was the right decision to bowl first because there was enough life in the pitch for the quicks to succeed, but the attack had failed to take advantage of it until late in the day.

"We were lucky to win the toss and utilise the conditions, but we weren't good enough to stand the seam up and get the movement out of the wicket," he said.

"We bowled two sides of the wicket and too short with the new ball and weren't patient enough.

"We got better towards the end of the second session and we were good in the last session and built up pressure to get wickets.

"Sri Lanka would have bowled as well if they won the toss."

Sri Lanka were cruising at 4-222 after captain Mahela Jayawardene and emergency call-up Lahiru Thirimanne scored half centuries to eradicate the sour memories of their MCG demolition.

Thirimanne's sparkling 91 brought him within reach of a maiden Test century just five days after he was plucked from Sri Lanka's domestic ranks to replace the injured Kumar Sangakkara.

Relishing his impending freedom as he plays his last match as Test captain, Jayawardene also hammered an exquisite 72, his first half century outside his country in more than three years.

Bird, Starc and Peter Siddle each claimed a pair of wickets from that point to prevent Sri Lanka taking a commanding position in their first appearance at the SCG.

The promising Bird, who was on a hat-trick briefly before television umpire Nigel Llong overturned Aleem Dar's lbw decision against Thirimanne from the first ball he received, said picking four pacemen meant the load could be shared more equitably and enable each bowler to come back fresher for each spell.

He bowled 19.4 overs in seven separate spells, with his opening burst of five overs the longest produced by any of the quicks.

MCG destroyer Mitchell Johnson bowled just 13 overs in three spells and, but for one brief burst that may have contributed to Jayawardene's demise, failed to replicate the bone-breaking mayhem that marked his man-of-the-match performance in the second Test.

"It was pretty nice actually because it was tough work pushing up into that breeze and it was pretty hot as well," Bird said.

"Short spells were definitely good and it didn't cook me and I got to bowl at the end and get a couple of late wickets."

Bird left Sydney for Tasmania two years ago and was delighted to return home and perform well.

The West Australian

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