Off-spinner Dilruwan Perera claimed his seventh five-wicket haul before England’s Ben
Foakes hit a century on debut as England made 342 all out half hour into the first session on day two. Dilruwan who had returned figures of 4 for 70 on the opening day of the first test removed Jack Leach to claim yet another five wicket haul.
With England reeling at 10 for two and then 103 for five, even the 200-mark looked difficult but Foakes forged 50-plus stands with Jos Buttler and Sam Curran to drag them back into the contest.
Foakes, replacing the injured Jonny Bairstow in the side, made 107 before he hauled Suranga Lakmal to extra cover where Dananjaya de Silva completed a well judged catch. Foakes, the English wicket-keeper hit 10 boundaries in his 201 ball innings--a quality debut innings from the right hander.
Jack Leach was on 14 at the other end after quite a turnaround by the tourists in the last two sessions.
England had earlier made an unconvincing start to life following the retirement of stalwart Alastair Cook after captain Joe Root opted to bat first to avoid the prospect of having the final innings at a famously spin-friendly venue.
It was the early pace of Suranga Lakmal, however, that undid the top order of a side playing their first test without England great Cook who left the international arena in September.
Opener Rory Burns (nine) disappointed on his test debut and Moeen Ali failed to justify his promotion to number three as Lakmal claimed two wickets in two balls.
Root denied Lakmal a hat-trick and started the rebuilding job, initially at a run-a-ball rate, with Keaton Jennings.
Sri Lanka wasted both their reviews inside 12 overs but it was the golden arm of retiring 40-year-old Rangana Herath that ended Root’s 62-run stand with Jennings.
Herath, given a guard-of-honour by his team mates ahead of his 93rd and final test, yorked an advancing Root to claim his 100th wicket at the venue where he made his test debut in 1999.
Root hit five boundaries in a fluent 35 before paying for his recklessness.
Dilruwan Perera (5-75) dismissed Jennings for 46 and Ben Stokes for seven in his second spell, clean bowling both the left-handers.
Buttler and Foakes sensibly abandoned the ultra-aggressive batting which had cost England dear in the morning session and combined in a 61-run stand for the sixth wicket.
Even after Perera dismissed Buttler for 38, Foakes raised 88 runs with Curran, who hit three sixes before falling for 48, while Adil Rashid contributed a quickfire 35 down the order.
England 1st innings
Rory Burns c Niroshan Dickwella b Suranga Lakmal 9
Keaton Jennings b Dilruwan Perera 46
Moeen Ali b Suranga Lakmal 0
Joe Root b Rangana Herath 35
Ben Stokes b Dilruwan Perera 7
Jos Buttler c Niroshan Dickwella b Dilruwan Perera 38
Ben Foakes c de Silva b Lakmal 107
Sam Curran c Dinesh Chandimal b Akila Dananjaya 48
Adil Rashid c Dhananjaya de Silva b Dilruwan Perera 35
Jack Leach c Kaushal Silva b Dilruwan Perera 15
James Anderson not out 00
Extras 1b 1lb 0nb 0pen 0w 2
Total (all out in 970 overs) 342
Fall of Wickets : 1-10 Burns, 2-10 Ali, 3-72 Root, 4-98 Jennings, 5-103 Stokes, 6-164 Buttler, 7-252 Curran, 8-306 Rashid, 9-330 Leach
Bowling: Suranga Lakmal 18-5-73-3, Dilruwan Perera 31-6-75-5, Akila Dananjaya 20-2-96-1, Rangana Herath 25-4-78-1, Dhananjaya de Silva 3-0-18-0