Resuming on 38/3, England wrapped up the match within 45 minutes of play on the final day, with Jonny Bairstow (35 not out) and Dan Lawrence (21 not out) putting on an unbeaten fourth wicket stand of 62 to see the visitors over the line.
Sri Lanka did have an LBW appeal against Lawrence dismissed on review before they failed to review another that would have been given out had they sent it upstairs, but England crossed the line with relative ease to take a 1-0 lead in the two match series.
The Sri Lankan fielders were chirpy around the bat from ball one, as play began with Dilruwan Perera starting proceedings against debutant Dan Lawrence. There was a loud appeal for LBW off the third ball of the morning as Lawrence tried to reverse sweep, but umpire Kumar Dharmasena shook his head. Sri Lankan captain Dinesh Chandimal went upstairs, but ultra edge showed Lawrence had gloved onto his pad.
The impressive Lasith Embuldeniya began from the opposite end and the first runs of the day soon arrived when Jonny Bairstow drove through the off side for a single. Just balls later Bairstow hit the first boundary, cutting Embuldeniya for four through backward point when the left armer dropped too short.
Sri Lanka wasteful
Lawrence began to use his feet to the spinner after another LBW appeal was turned down. Sri Lanka decided not to use a review, despite having two remaining and England requiring fewer than 30 to win.
DRS showed three reds, meaning Lawrence would have been out had Chandimal decided to ask the question, much to the captain’s frustration as he watched the replay on the big screen in the ground.
Bairstow and Lawrence take control
Perera continued to look threatening as Lawrence inside edged past his own stumps, but the Essex man, alongside Bairstow, was allowed to milk singles and they even managed a two, despite a close runout chance against Bairstow.
Chandimal introduced leg spinner Wanindu Hasaranga early on as the target sank below 20, but England continued to take easy singles as they edged ever closer to victory.
Embuldeniya swapped ends and beat the outside edge of Lawrence, and Perera was then back on at the other end in place of Hasaranga, who bowled just one over, essentially swapping the bowlers’ ends from the start of the day.
The 50 partnership between Bairstow and Lawrence was brought up in the 23rd over of the innings, and not long after the required number to win was into single fingers as Bairstow flicked just past leg slip for two.
Victory for England
Another LBW appeal was dismissed as Bairstow edged onto his pad, and the winning runs were hit at 4:52am UK time, Bairstow sweeping Perera for four to secure a seven wicket victory for England.
It was a tragic first innings batting performance that did for Sri Lanka. The hosts were dismissed for 135 on the first day, allowing England to post a lead of 286 after their first innings, majorly assisted by an exquisite 228 from captain Joe Root.
Sri Lanka recovered in their second innings to post 359, but in turn only set England 74 because of their first showing.
The victory was England’s fifth consecutive win on Sri Lankan soil, equaling the record for the feat, tied with Australia (2002-2011) and India (2015-2017). It was also their fourth overseas win in a row - something they have not managed since the 1950s.
Man of the match was, unsurprisingly, Joe Root. The victory was Root’s 24th win as England captain, taking him level with Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss and behind only Michael Vaughan - a pretty successful outing for the 30-year-old.
There’s now plenty to ponder for both sides ahead of the second test, which begins on Friday.