Australia evaded their lowest ever ODI total, but slumped to a poor four-wicket defeat - and telling series deficit - in Friday's third match against Sri Lanka at the Gabba in Brisbane.

Captain Michael Clarke's decision to bat first backfired entirely. He later admitted he should have opted for the alternative, but the decision - and a prolific haul from seamer Nuwan Kulasekara - left the hosts all out for a mere 74 in just 26.4 overs.

The abysmal tally weighed in as the country's second lowest, marginally surpassing the 70s all out endured against New Zealand and England in 1986 and 1977 respectively. It will be recorded as Australia's worst tally in more than two decades, too, and the joint 27th lowest among all nations.

The score would have read considerably worse were it not for a brave 34-run alliance for the 10th wicket between aspiring all-rounder Mitchell Starc and tail-ender Xavier Doherty. Kulasekara proved the destroyer in-chief en route to career-best figures of five for 22. Fast bowler Lasith Malinga, meanwhile, snared three breakthroughs.

The visitors' pursuit, although hampered by the loss of six wickets inside 20 overs, proved ample in securing a vital two-one lead in the five-match affair. Fixtures four and five, thankfully, promise some welcome competition in the wake of the one-sided Test series.

Right-armer Kulasekara was remarkable in his deployment of the new ball, finding lateral movement off the seam and swing to boot. The opposition were in tatters at the turn of the 12th over, and the introduction of Malinga duly continued the rot.

Clarke's cartwheeled middle stump and George Bailey's first-ball duck epitomised the damage, with the latter humbled after questioning the second-string nature of Australia's line-up earlier this week.

Starc, ever the blossoming all-rounder, characteristically refused to go down without a fight - and found sound support in Doherty. The pair were the only recipients of double figures in a procession that afforded Kulasekara the fourth-best figures by a bowler from the sub-continent in Australia. India's Ajit Agarkar and Ravi Shastri and Pakistan's Wasim Akram, indeed, have been matched.

The short nature of their time at the crease allowed the home side 14 overs at the chasing tourists prior to the interval. Three quick breakthroughs from seamer Mitchell Johnson's worried the visiting camp initially, and a swift brace from fellow left-armer Starc later heightened the nerves.

Johnson and Starc, resuming their collective role after missing the second match due to respective side and calf injuries, were very successful in combination. The accompanying seamers, though, could not follow suit - and all-rounder Thisara Perera was soon at hand to strike the winning runs.

Sri Lanka victory arrived with a whopping 180 deliveries to spare, and leaves them one win away from a rare series triumph Down Under. The Aussies, though, are left to rue an assortment of unwanted records - and the questionable omission of the ever-reliable Michael Hussey. The recent Test retiree's presence in the limited-overs middle order is sorely missed, and opportunity is knocking harder than ever for his return.