* Sri Lanka top order disintegrate
* Tourists still need 261 runs to make Australia bat again
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Australia marched to the brink of victory early on day three of the second test as Sri Lanka's top order crumbled before lunch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.
After bowling Australia out for 460, Sri Lanka lost three wickets in the first 12 balls of their innings, and a fourth less than four overs later to leave Kumar Sangakkara and all-rounder Angelo Mathews fighting a virtually hopeless cause.
The tourists, skittled for 156 in the first innings, were still 261 runs short of making Australia bat again at lunch, with Sangakkara on 22 and Mathews living dangerously on 17.
Australia lost their last two wickets for the addition of 20 runs in the first hour, leaving Mitchell Johnson stranded on 92, but the mercurial paceman was consoled with a direct hand in the first two Sri Lanka wickets.
A horrible misunderstanding between openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Tillakaratne Dilshan led to the former run out for one on the third ball of the innings.
Karunaratne pushed the ball to the off side for a single but the pair changed their minds about a second run, allowing David Warner to flick the ball to Johnson who dived to throw the stumps down from point-blank range.
Dilshan was gone for a first-ball duck with the next delivery off Johnson when he tried to fend off a short delivery, only to flick an edge onto his thigh pad that rebounded for a simple catch to Cowan at short leg.
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene was heading back to the dressing room for a duck in the next over, shaping to leave the ball but playing onto his stumps to give debutant Jackson Bird his first wicket of the morning.
The 26-year-old seamer struck again in the sixth over of the day, trapping Thilan Samaraweera lbw.
The batsmen called for a review of the decision but the video system showed the ball clattering into leg stump.
Mathews earlier removed Nathan Lyon for one, while Shaminda Eranga wound up the Australian innings by bowling Bird for a duck, frustrating Johnson's bid for a second test century.
Australia lead the series 1-0 after winning the first test in Hobart, with the third and final test to be played in Sydney from Jan. 3.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)