Colombo:Jolted by three quick wickets, India were left with the tricky task of scoring 204 runs for victory on a fifth day track after allowing Sri Lanka to stage a remarkable recovery in the third and final Test which seemed headed for a nail-biting finish on Friday.
Chasing 256 for a win, the Indians were tottering at 53 for three at close on a thrilling fourth day's play which saw the hosts rely on Thilan Samaraweera (83) and tailender Ajantha Mendis (78) to salvage the situation after being at a precarious 125 for eight at one stage.
The Sri Lankans recovered brilliantly from the dramatic middle order collapse to score 267 in the second innings and had snapped the key wickets of Virender Sehwag (0), Rahul Dravid (7) and Murali Vijay (27) to raise hopes of a 2-0 series win.
Statistical highlights | India can pull off win in 3rd Test: Mishra
Veteran Sachin Tendulkar (11) and night watchman Ishant Sharma (2) were at the crease at stumps on an absorbing day's play which saw fortune fluctuating from one team to the other.
The Sri Lankans owed their total to Samareweera and Mendis who put up a resolute 118-run ninth wicket partnership to save the blushes for the team.
The partnership not only frustrated the Indians, who had put themselves in command in the morning session with five quick wickets for just 24 runs, but made their victory target a lot stiffer.
With just one day left, the Indians will have to bat out of their skin on a deteriorating P Sara Oval track tomorrow to entertain hopes of a series-equalling victory. Much will depend on Tendulkar who has to play the sheet anchor's role while the other batsmen play around him.
Off spinner Suraj Randiv, who opened the bowling attack, scalped all the three wickets to give his team the upperhand.
Resuming at 45 for two, the hosts lost their first wicket early in the day when Suraj Randiv, who was lucky to be dropped by wicket keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was finally dismissed the next ball being trapped lbw by Ojha.
Overnight at an individual score of 12, skipper Kumar Sangakkara began by stabbing Ojha's outside-the-off-stump delivery for a boundary at the slip region.
New batsmen Mahela Jayawardene who took 11 balls to open his account began with a boundary off Ojha at the cover point fence.
The former captain, however, perished as he nicked an Ojha delivery flighted around off and middle to the Dravid at slips.
The Lankans suffered the third jolt of the day when Sangakkara trying to break the spin trap ended by driving a Ojha delivery straight into the hands of Suresh Raina, who grabbed the catch in his second attempt.
15 balls later, a low full toss by Amit Mishra caught Angelo Mathews (5) unaware as he ended up giving a catch to Sachin Tendulkar at mid-wicket.
Mishra was on a hat-trick chance when in the very next ball wicket keeper Prasanna Jayawardene was trapped leg before wicket.
Samaraweera and Malinga then gave some respectability to the Sri Lankan total as both opened up and scored mainly in boundaries.
After hitting Ojha to the long off boundary, Samaraweera creamed a full delivery around off stump from Mishra through the covers, before cutting a Sehwag delivery through the covers.
Malinga on his part cut a Ojha delivery through the cover point boundary after he had edged the same bowler for a boundary.
Malinga finally fell to a quickish delivery from Sehwag as it hit him right in the front of the middle stump.
But Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis frustrated the Indians with a resolute 118-run partnership which gave the hosts a reasonable total to push for a 2-0 victory in the series.
Samaraweera stitched his ninth wicket partnership with Mendis by taking singles and twos, before exploding in the 55th over when he hit a superb sweep shot of Sehwag to bring up his fifty off 79 balls studded with six boundaries.
Samaraweera also picked up Mishra for some special treatment when he reached down the track to a flighted delivery and hammered it past the bowler for a boundary.
Mendis, on his part, also played some aggressive shots after getting his eye in.
The carrom bowler got the first six of Sri Lankan innings when he blasted Ojha with the ball getting stuck in the roof with a television cameraman having to retrieve it.
Mithun finally provided the breakthrough for the Indians by evicting Samaweera with Dhoni latching on to the catch. His knock of 83 came off 139 deliveries and contained six boundaries.
With the last batsman Chanaka Welegedara joining him, Mendis went for his shots in a bid to try and increase the lead.
The Sri Lankan second innings came to an end when Mishra got rid of Mendis with Suresh Raina taking a smart catch.