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Australia batsman Shaun Marsh plays a shot in Friday's third and final test. ((Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/Getty Images))

Shaun Marsh carried his form from his debut century to hit an unbeaten half-century in Australia's 154-4 at tea on the opening day of the third and final test Friday.

Marsh was 68 not out at the interval having faced 172 balls including six boundaries. He helped salvage Australia's innings by sharing 79 runs with former captain Ricky Ponting, who made 48 after the hosts lost two wickets for 22 runs. Mike Hussey was batting with him on 18.

Seamers Suranga Lakmal and debutante Shaminda Eranga picked up two wickets each.

Ponting faced 91 balls and hit six elegant boundaries before he chased a wider delivery from Lakmal to wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene. Eranga, who earlier snared Australian opener Shane Watson in the first delivery of his test career, had captain Michael Clarke (6) caught behind to finish with 2-41. Lakmal had best figures 2-33.

Eranga is the 18th test bowler to strike with his first ball and second Sri Lankan to do so.

Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan won the toss in the morning and sent Australia in to bat, having named Eranga among three seamers, hoping to make good use of early movement in the pitch.

Lakmal struck in the second over of the match, bowling out Phil Hughes with Australia yet to score.

Trailing the three-match series 1-0 and having to win this match to avoid a series defeat, Sri Lanka dropped seasoned batsman Thilan Samaraweera and included Lahiru Thirimanne for only his second test.

Suraj Randiv and Seekkuge Prasanna, who made his debut in the second test, were left out, with left-arm spinner Rangana Herath the lone spinner in an uncharacteristic Sri Lanka attack. Hearth has returned after missing the second test due to a finger injury.

Ponting returned to the side after missing the second test for the birth of his second child. Marsh, who made 141 on his debut, retained his place while top-order batsman Usman Khawaja made way.

Seamer Ryan Harris, the most successful bowler of the series with 11 wickets, missed out due to an injury and Peter Siddle took his place.

The match is former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara's 100th test match.