Sri Lanka, needing 269 for a rare and famous victory overseas, were comfortably cruising towards their goal after a sunny, uninterrupted first session and were 179 for 3 at lunch. Their two longest serving Test players, Aravinda de Silva and the captain Arjuna Ranatunga, were entrenched in a fourth- wicket stand eventually worth 71, and the West Indies bowlers were making no impression.
After that, their effort was disrupted by repeated heavy showers that skirted across the Arnos Vale ground, preventing play entirely between lunch and tea and causing three breaks in the final session.
Overcome by the tension of the occasion and restricted by disciplined West Indian fast bowling, they lost five wickets for 44 and were desperately hanging on at 233 for 8, still 36 away from what would have been only their fourth win in a Test on overseas soil since their elevation to the status in 1982.
The left-handed Ranatunga, who played in their very first Test then and who was now in his 69th, was still there after just over three hours of dedicated resistance, unbeaten on 72.
He, and his equally long-serving West Indian counterpart, Courtney Walsh, were at the heart of their teams' desperate efforts for supremacy.
Sri Lanka had resumed at 97 for 2 and lost opener Roshan Mahamana with only 21 added, Ian Bishop finding his glove for a keeper's catch. But De Silva and Ranatunga then batted with confidence, and restraint, to carry their team to within sight of their goal by lunch. De Silva transformed himself from the dashing, impulsive stroke maker who had belted seven fours in 34 of 28 balls the previous afternoon into the responsible anchor Sri Lanka required. When the first squall passed over the ground, he was 76, but he had added only two after the prolonged break when Walsh produced the perfect Yorker to knock back his off stump.
Sri Lanka's final hopes were eventually dashed when Curtly Ambrose dispatched Kumi Dharmasena and Muttiah Muralitharan in the first over following the resumption after the day's third interruption and Ranatunga was happy to accept the umpire's offer to leave the field for bad light soon afterwards.
Final day; Sri Lanka won toss
WEST INDIES - First Innings 147 (C L Hooper 81; K R Pushpakumara 5-41).
SRI LANKA - First innings 222 (S T Jayasuriya 90; C L Hooper 5-26).
WEST INDIES - Second Innings 343 (B C Lara 115; M Muralitharan 5-113).
SRI LANKA - Second Innings
S T Jayasuriya b Walsh 17
R S Mahanama c Browne b Bishop 29
M S Atapattu b Walsh 10
P A de Silva b Walsh 78
*A Ranatunga not out 72
R S Kaluwitharana hit wicket b Walsh 2
S Ranatunga run out 0
H D P K Dharmasena c Browne b Ambrose 7
M Muralitharan c Holder b Ambrose 0
S C de Silva not out 1
Extras (lb3 nb14) 17
Total (for 8, 68 overs) 233
Fall: 1-26, 2-55, 3-118, 4-189, 5-193, 6-208, 7-231, 8-231.
To bat: K R Pushpakumara.
Bowling: Ambrose 15-1-51-2 (nb7); Walsh 24-2-73-4 (nb5); Rose 6-1-24- 0 (nb2); Bishop 16-1-61-1; Hooper 9-3-21-0.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and D B Cowie (NZ).