Sri Lanka reached 220-5 at stumps on day one after opting to bat first in the third Test against Pakistan in Sharjah.
All of the top order made starts but Kumar Sangakkara's 52 was the highest score as Pakistan kept making breakthroughs at just the right time.
It was slow going for most of the day, Sri Lanka losing only Kaushal Silva (17) - caught behind off Mohammad Talha's bowling - on the way to lunch at 64-1.
Dimuth Karunaratne went for 34 in the first over of the afternoon session, edging a delivery from left-arm spinner Adbur Rehman (1-45) to Younus Khan, who held a low catch moving to his left at slip.
Karunaratne's exit brought Mahela Jayawardene out to join Sangakkara and the veteran duo were soon into a familiar routine building their partnership.
Jayawardene lofted a couple of sixes against the spinners, while Sangakkara went to his 44th Test half-century from 101 balls.
But Sangakkara departed for 52, chipping a catch to Khurram Manzoor at midwicket off left-arm seamer Junaid Khan's bowling to end a 60-run stand.
Worse followed for Sri Lanka after tea when off-spinner Saeed Ajmal (2-62) removed Jaywardene (47) and Dinesh Chandimal (11) to reduce them to 166-5.
But Angelo Mathews (24no) and Prasanna Jayawardene (28no) batted through the remainder of the day to leave the match finely poised by the close.
Sri Lanka, who handed a debut to spin-bowling all-rounder Dilruwan Perera, lead the three-match series 1-0 after a nine-wicket win in the second Test in Dubai.