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Herath ends Smith resistance as Sri Lanka close on win

(Reuters) - Rangana Herath ripped the heart out of Australia's middle order with three telling strikes as the visitors, chasing 268 for victory, slumped to 141 for seven at lunch on the final day of the first test at Pallekele on Saturday.

The left-arm spinner sent back Adam Voges and Mitchell Marsh before dealing the biggest blow when he trapped Steven Smith leg-before, ending the Australian captain's dogged resistance.

Left-arm Chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan chipped in with the wicket of Mitchell Starc on the stroke of lunch under darkening skies in Kandy.

Peter Nevill was batting on one at the break with Australia 127 runs short of their victory target with just three wickets in hand.

The weather-hit first match of the three-test series got off to another delayed start following steady morning drizzle and Sri Lanka attacked with spin from both ends to unsettle the visitors, who have looked unconvincing against the slow bowlers.

Herath (4-49) has proved a thorn in Australia's side with the ball as well as bat in this match and the stocky spinner took a return catch to send back Voges (12) after Australia resumed what promised to be an intriguing final day on 83-3.

Marsh (25) hit three boundaries before Herath struck him on the pad and a convinced home captain Angelo Mathews successfully reviewed the original not-out decision to send back the batsman.

Smith (55), however, dug in battled on, his doggedness underlined by the lone boundary he hit in his 17th test fifty, which was also only the second 50-plus score in the bowler-dominated contest.

In the over prior to his dismissal, Smith was adjudged caught behind off Sandakan but the Australian captain reviewed the decision and managed to prolong his stay when replays showed the ball had clearly missed the edge of his bat.

Nine balls latter Herath trapped him leg before and this time Smith was unable to reverse the decision with another review.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O'Brien)

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