Ireland will likely have to bat for the vast majority of the final day to save the second Test in Galle but acting head coach Gary Wilson has faith that they can do it.

The tourists closed the fourth day on 54 for two, still needing 158 runs to make Sri Lanka bat again after the hosts had declared, surprisingly early, but still with an awesome 704 runs on the board.

The Ireland bowlers took only two wickets in the 74 overs they were in the field as two batsmen posted double centuries and the veteran Angelo Mathews, who captained the team for the first time on this ground exactly 10 years ago, finished 100 not out.

That was the cue for current skipper DImuth Karunaratne to close the innings and leave his bowlers 22 overs before the close, with a further 98 on Friday.

Again the Ireland openers failed to survive the new ball, with James McCollum bowled by off spinner Ramesh Mendis for 10 and PJ Moor caught low at short cover by Mathews off slow left armer Prabath Jayasuriya for 19, the highest of his six scores for Ireland.

Andrew Balbirnie (53 balls) and Harry Tector (24) saw their side to stumps but know they will face the same combination when play resumes, although as yet the ball is still not turning nearly as much as it would be expected at this stage of a Test in Sri Lanka.

As a result, it rendered the Ireland spinners impotent and, apart from Andy McBrine, expensive. The other three slow bowlers, Ben White, Matthew Humphreys and Harry Tector, bowled 52 overs between them that went for more than six runs an over without a wicket.

McBrine got through 57 himself in the innings at only 3.35 runs an over and the deserved wicket of Nishan Maduska, leg before from a ball that turned in the third over after lunch. He almost had a second wicket when Mendis’ sweep shot to long leg fell inches short of Humphreys’ dive but by that that stage the No.3 bat already had a career best 207.

“It was a phenomenal effort (by McBrine),” said Wilson, “and he probably didn’t get the luck he deserved. But he did exactly what we wanted him to do. When conditions are not spinning, he is going to play more of a holding role and he was the best bowler we had at doing that in this innings.”

The more expensive and easier miss was Mathews on just two, dropped at mid-wicket by James McCollum off his Waringstown team-mate Graham Hume, who kept coming in in the extreme humid conditions.

Hume also has his first Test match wicket, Mendis caught for 245 at long-off by Humphreys, a good effort by the young Lisburn man as he had to flip the ball up when was about to cross the boundary, but held on to the rebound.

“It’s been two tough days for our bowlers, we’ve seen throughout the series we have struggled to take wickets. But we are where we are now and there’s an exciting day ahead tomorrow,” said Wilson.

“I’d have preferred to have lost no wickets tonight but it’s important going into tomorrow that we realise the pitch hasn’t deteriorated massively as things stand at the minute and there is a great opportunity to bat for long period of time. That, coupled with having some really good batters, and we’re confident we can do a good job.”

Wilson did add one proviso. “It’s important we don’t just go out and block. If we play negatively it will bring them into the game a lot more, so rotation will be important, but I have full faith in the guys they will get the job done tomorrow.”

The one decision that hasn’t worked has been the Test debut of Humphreys. Despite there being two right handers in the middle throughout the day, the slow left armer was given only 10 overs but because they cost 67 runs, Balbirnie, in the end, was afraid to use him. But Wilson denied the selection had backfired.

“I don’t think we can say that. We picked him because it was a positive decision, we’ve seen what he can do and he’ll come back. It’s only one Test match, we’ve seen him bowl well, seen him make his debut in all three formats and he’s a young guy who will take a lot from this tour. He and we would have liked to have seen him bowl more overs but it hasn’t turned out that way.”

The bowlers have done all they can do on this long trip. On the final day, 48 days after they left home, it is the batters who must try and earn a first Test match draw.