England set its sight on a meaningful first innings lead after offspinner Dom Bess took a career-best 5-30 to bowl out Sri Lanka for 135 on the first day of the first Test on Thursday.
Captain Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow further thwarted Sri Lanka ambitions with a gritty, unbroken stand of 110 runs to close the day at 127-2, trailing by just eight runs.
Root reached his half-century off 94 balls and was unbeaten on 66 with five fours, while Bairstow was 47 not out.
It could have been 52-3 but Root escaped on 20 when he successfully overturned a lbw decision through video referral.
Root and Bairstow came together after left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya removed openers Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley to reduce the visitors to 2-17 inside the first nine overs.
Both batsmen grew in confidence and neutralized the three-pronged spin attack of Embuldeniya, Wanindu Hasaranga and Dilruwan Perera through sweep shots and maintained a healthy run rate of 3.4 runs an over to raise the century stand.
Earlier, stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal, who won the toss and opted to bat, top-scored with 28 after regular skipper Dimuth Karunaratne was ruled out with a broken thumb in Sri Lanka’s first home test since the pandemic began.
Stuart Broad picked up two early wickets in one over and 3-20 overall, while Bess found some unexpected assistance from the Galle International Stadium pitch to dismiss the home team just before tea.
Bess, playing in Asia for the first time, claimed his first wicket with his second delivery when Kusal Perera went for an ambitious reverse sweep on 20 and gloved a simple catch to skipper Joe Root at first slip.
Broad, bowling around the wicket, had the left-hander Lahiru Thirimanne caught at leg slip on 4 in his fourth over. One ball later, Kusal Mendis fell for his fourth successive duck in tests as he got a faint edge off Broad’s brilliant leg-cutter.
Senior pros Chandimal and Angelo Mathews shared a 56-run, fourth-wicket stand until they departed in successive overs after lunch.
En route to 27, Mathews became only the fifth Sri Lankan to pass 6,000 test runs after Kumar Sangakkara (12,400), Mahela Jayawardene (11,814), Sanath Jayasuriya (6,973), and Aravinda de Silva (6,361).
But the former skipper was dismissed by Broad after the break when a loose shot was caught at slip by Root at chest height.
In the next over, Chandimal, who reached 4,000 runs in tests, gave a tame catch in the covers off Jack Leach.
Bess ran through the tail quickly.
England gave a test cap to Essex batsman Dan Lawrence, who dropped an easy catch of Chandimal in the covers just before lunch. The visitors opted to rest James Anderson and picked Sam Curran and Mark Wood to partner Broad.
England wore black armbands in memory of former England test cricketers — John Edrich, Robin Jackman and Dom Smith — who died recently.