England captain Joe Root dropped both Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya De Silva on day two of the final Test in Colombo, allowing the Sri Lankan duo to put on the biggest stand of the series.
The tourists toiled in draining heat at Sinhalese Sports Club as the home side’s second-wicket pair put on 142 in 36 overs together. By tea on day two Sri Lanka sat 153 behind on 183 for two with Karunaratne still going on 81.
The opener had scored just two when he nicked Stuart Broad to first slip, where Root misread the trajectory and parried a catchable chance for four off his wrist. He later fumbled De Silva on 42, losing control after wrapping both hands around it, with Broad again the unfortunate bowler.
De Silva was eventually dismissed late in the afternoon session for 73, ending a diligent stay but turning Adil Rashid gently to Keaton Jennings at short-leg.
Jennings pulled off two stunning interventions in the Kandy Test and his growing bravery and proficiency under the helmet had earlier granted England their first wicket of the day.
He quickly spotted Danushka Gunathilaka advancing down the track towards Jack Leach, gamely opting to mirror his steps in order to leave himself perfectly placed to cling on to a thick inside-edge most fielders would have been crouching to avoid.
That was England’s only success in almost three hours, Broad’s lively efforts undermined by Root’s uncharacteristic errors while both Moeen Ali and Leach laboured through long spells without joy.
Both bowlers drew occasional mis-hits but they consistently landed safely and there was a noticeable lack of menace in their combined 30 overs, with scarcely any credible lbw shouts after two Tests littered with them.
Ben Stokes’ extra pace and aggression and Rashid’s unpredictability both began to look like sorely under-used assets until they were belatedly introduced at the back end of the afternoon’s play.
Rashid picked up the much-needed scalp of De Silva and Stokes’ brief barrage of short bowling saw him land a nasty blow on Karunaratne’s ribcage.
England had earlier subsided in less than 25 minutes, Moeen and Leach both picking out Angelo Mathews off the bowling of Dilruwan Perera and Broad bowled round his legs for a duck to complete Lakshan Sandakan’s five-wicket haul.