James Anderson picked up the vital early wicket of centurion Angelo Mathews but Sri Lanka battled on to 313 for six on day two of the second Test in Galle.
England’s record wicket-taker took three of the four wickets to fall on Friday in a classy return on his first competitive appearance in five months and was immediately on the hunt again, finding sharp movement off the pitch to remove Mathews in his first over.
When Mark Wood made the breakthrough a double – Jos Buttler taking a fine one-handed catch down the leg side as Ramesh Mendis fell for a duck on debut – it looked as if a sub-300 total could still be on the cards.
Two wickets on an attritional morning.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 23, 2021
But Niroshan Dickwella picked up the baton, turning his overnight score of 19 into 78 not out, bristling with positivity but none of the recklessness that has often cost him at this level.
It remained a lean time for England’s spin pairing of Jack Leach and Dom Bess, who sent down 40 wicketless overs on day one and added another 13 between them at a cost of 42 runs.
Sri Lanka resumed on 229 for four but saw their platform eroded almost immediately as the two key figures from Friday’s play faced off again, with Anderson coming out on top.
With the second new ball still hard he was able to conjure some seam movement off the pitch and going up for caught behind as it flicked something on the way through. There was no doubt pad was involved but, when the umpire rejected the appeal, Joe Root was persuaded to take a second look with DRS.
A tiny spike showed up on UltraEdge leaving Mathews looking aggrieved but England overjoyed. Mendis was unable to wipe away their smiles, lingering seven balls before Wood slid one into the pads and Buttler flung himself into action to grasp a tricky chance before it disappeared towards fine leg.
With Dilruwan Perera sticking firm at number eight, Dickwella put together a composed innings for his side driving well on the front foot initially and then dipping into his cross-bat shots as Bess and Leach struggled.