James Anderson completed career-best figures in Asian conditions as he continued to set the standard for England, but Sri Lanka posted a strong first-innings score of 381 in Galle.
Anderson, England’s record wicket-taker, is still raising the bar at the age of 38 and finished with an outstanding return of six for 40 at a venue that is far from a swing bowler’s ideal hunting ground.
But Anderson has long since become a master of tailoring his skills to the task at hand and dismissed both of Sri Lanka’s key men, overnight centurion Angelo Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella eight short of a maiden hundred, as well as tail-ender Suranga Lakmal.
Their efforts, combined with a priceless 67 from number eight Dilruwan Perera, meant the tourists were still up against it after 140 overs in the field on a pitch that has surely seen its best batting days.
With three for Mark Wood and one for Sam Curran, all 10 wickets fell to seam, leaving spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess nursing a combined return of nought for 195 in 64 overs.
Sri Lanka resumed on 229 for four but saw their platform eroded almost immediately as Anderson and Mathews, the two key figures from Friday’s play, faced off again.
With the second new ball still hard Anderson had to the tools to conjure some seam movement off the pitch and leapt up for caught behind as his sixth delivery of the morning flicked something on the way through. There was no doubt pad was involved but, when the umpire rejected the appeal, an uncertain Joe Root was persuaded to take a second look with DRS.
A tiny spike showed up on UltraEdge leaving Mathews (110) looking aggrieved but England overjoyed. Debutant Ramesh Mendis was unable to wipe away their smiles, gone for a seven-ball duck as he flicked Wood off his pads and Jos Buttler flung himself to intercept the ball as it headed towards fine leg.
At that point a sub-300 total still looked possible, but Dickwella would not allow it. He drove well against the pacemen and looked far too assured to let either Bess or Leach cut him short, sweeping and cutting nicely.
With Dilruwan offering bright support sticking firm at number eight, Dickwella stamped down English momentum to take the score to 313 for six at lunch.
The wicketkeeper passed fifty for the 16th time before the break and moved past his career best of 83 afterwards, and seemed dead set on a maiden hundred.
But England hatched a fresh plan and, to no great surprise, it hinged on Anderson’s application. Angling the ball across the left-hander with a ring of catchers on the off-side, he drew Dickwella into rash drive that was well tracked by Leach at mid-off.
He had fallen eight short and Anderson had his five-for. Suranga Lakmal offered himself up as a willing sixth, flashing his second ball to Zak Crawley at gully. Once again, though, Sri Lanka collected themselves and went again.
Dilruwan managed things exceptionally, putting on 49 for the last two wickets before he was last man out, hooking Curran to fine leg.
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