James Anderson was at his brilliant best on his return to the England side, but Sri Lanka were threatening to make life hard with an improved batting performance in the second Test.
The home side reached 155 for three at tea, with England’s record wicket-taker responsible for all three dismissals having replaced Stuart Broad as leader of the touring attack.
On a flat pitch offering precious little encouragement, he struck twice in his third over of the day before resuming after lunch to end Lahiru Thirimanne’s promising knock.
The 38-year-old’s figures of three for 14 represented an exemplary effort of skill and substance but Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal settled in to ensure the middle order would not cave in as it did at the same stage of the series opener.
After the home side won the toss and chose to bat, Sri Lanka soon found themselves staring at a bad case of deja-vu. Having crumpled for 135 on the first day last week, they found themselves teetering on seven for two.
Kusal Perera was first to fall having already survived a desperately tight lbw shout from Sam Curran’s second ball. The flighty opener did not leave England waiting long for another chance, hacking irresponsibly at Anderson as he probed from round the wicket and sending a thick edge sailing into the outstretched arms of Joe Root at slip.
Oshada Fernando was a fresh face at number three, recalled following Kusal Mendis’ run of four ducks in five innings, but the result was painfully familiar. The new man lasted just four balls before steering a rising delivery from Anderson back into his stumps for yet another nought in that key position.
Thirimanne and Mathews proved stiffer opponents as they calmed the situation and reminded the fielding side that this was ultimately a flat pitch requiring cool heads and straight bats.
The pair, fresh from scores of 111 and 71 in their previous innings, added another 69 runs to the score before the break as spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess searched in vain for inspiration.
The start of the afternoon session brought another Anderson spell and after only two balls he had Thirimanne heading for the pavilion, a flicker of movement towards the cordon bringing the outside edge as the left-hander prodded.
As well as three wickets, Anderson’s first nine overs had coughed up only six runs – a ruthlessly efficient stint only slightly marred by two Mathews boundaries in the 10th.
The experienced batsman did not give England any encouragement, immediately setting about forging another stand with his captain.
The spinners continued to struggle to make themselves heard, getting through 26 overs without a chance, but Mark Wood turned in a fierce spell of pace bowling.
Chandimal found himself hit on three occasions at speed, twice on the glove and once on the grille, but even that hostility could not force matters as Mathews eased past his fifty and the partnership reached 79.