For a good part of the first half an hour of England's run-chase, it seemed like Sri Lanka could have a sniff at an improbable win, defending a mere 73. Not even in their best period with the bat, had they found themselves such close to parity with England as they did when the visitors lost their openers - Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley - early for the second time in the game to Lasith Embuldeniya, followed by Joe Root's attempt to pick a quick single resulting in a run out. At 14 for 3, with the ball turning sharply and inducing edges, England were left with ample reasons to worry. Dan Lawrence and Jonny Bairstow, however, played out the last half an hour safely, helping their side to 38 for 3 at stumps, 36 shy of taking a 1-nil lead in the two-match series.
For as long as Sri Lanka were in pursuit of clearing the 130-run deficit they had carried on to the fourth day, they looked untroubled, much like it was the case with their batting on the third day. Even though there was ample turn, the slow nature of the surface didn't threaten batsmen enough. Three sessions into their second innings, they had lost only four wickets - one slashed to the fielder at deep backward square leg, one of a batsman who had registered ducks in his four previous innings, one of a nightwatchman and one of a batsman who had scored a century - only his second since making his Test debut almost a decade ago.
More than 114 overs into their second essay, Sri Lanka finally managed to ensure that England will have to bat again. It was a Jack Leach delivery that kept low after pitching. It got the inside edge of Angelo Mathews's bat and trickled away towards the boundary. It was possibly signs of some dramatic shift in the proceedings that had made batting look the easiest skill to perform on the field on a hot day, and take Sri Lanka to 289 for 5.
Whatever the cloud cover did or not thereafter, the England spinners found more zip, sharper turn and the batsmen - including Mathews who had spent more than 250 minutes at the crease by then - seemed in trouble. The veteran all-rounder continued to dig but wickets tumbled from the other end. Dom Bess induced an outside edge off Niroshan Dickwella, who looked to cut, but ended up top-edging the offbreak to the 'keeper. Leach beat the outside edge of Dasun Shanaka's bat and disturbed the timber before the Tea break and returned to force Wanindu Hasaranga into a drive and managed to get a nick to Jor Root at slip. The hosts had slipped to 314 for 8, with a lead of only 28 to hold on.
A good reason for Sri Lanka to find themselves in that position was largely due to Lahiru Thirimanne's second Test century, which much like Joe Root's knock in the first innings, was a display of the best approach on the wicket - to be on the defensive when the bowlers were bowling in good channels, and not missing the scoring advantage when they erred in their lengths. The southpaw picked up his scoring rate with Bess and Leach erring more often. Kusal Perera too had adopted a similar approach but was dismissed while looking to put away a short and wide ball. While Curran was fortunate to dismiss Perera, he returned to the spell with the second new ball and got it to nip back in and take the inside edge of Thirimanne's bat to the 'keeper on the fourth day.
Much unlike the opening duo though, Mathews adopted a dour approach to batting. He dug in for more than five hours before becoming Leach's fifth victim of the day and ending Sri Lanka's fightback on 359. However, before that, he stitched two valuable partnerships - a 48-run stand with Dickwella which lasted almost 24 overs in the afternoon and 38 with Dilruwan Perera, in both of which Mathews played the secondary role of run-making, which propelled the hosts to a 73-run lead.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 135 (Dinesh Chandimal 28, Angelo Mathews 27; Dom Bess 5-30, Stuart Broad 3-20) & 359 (Lahiru Thirimanne 111; Kusal Perera 62; Jack Leach 5-122, Dom Bess 3-100) lead England 421 (Joe Root 228, Dan Lawrence 73; Dilruwan Perera 4-129, Lasith Embuldeniya 3-176) & 38/3 (Lasith Embuldeniya 2-13) by 36 runs.