Jonny Bairstow made a brilliant third test century as he helped England overcome another middle order collapse which saw the hosts fall to 84-4.
Alastair Cook made 85 while wickets were falling at the other end, before Bairstow hit an unbeaten 107 with Chris Woakes 23 not out overnight as England finished on 279-6.
England off to a solid start
After winning the toss for the third time out of three attempts in the series as Cook opted to bat once again and started steadily as the ball was seaming around in typical first morning Lords’ fashion.
Cook got his innings started as he flipped a leg glance for four as England got through the first hour without trouble.
After the drinks break, Sri Lanka started to mount pressure which included four maidens in a row from captain Angelo Matthews, before Herath was brought into the attack and Alex Hales could not resist an expansive slog sweep off the spinner’s fourth ball of the innings.
The Nottinghamshire opener miscued and the pressure had told as it flew off the top edge to the awaiting Matthews who took a smart catch to leave England 56-1 after Hales’ fairly pedestrian 18.
One brings... four
After Hales' impatience proved to be his downfall once again, he was to be joined back in the famous Lords’ pavilion just five overs later as Nick Compton was the next to go.
Looking like a man out of form, Compton attempted to straight drive a full Lakmal delivery back past the Sri Lankan seamer, but before the Middlesex batsman’s front foot had landed on the seemingly solid Lords’ wicket he had nicked behind to Dinesh Chandimal who made no mistake behind the stumps.
Compton had made just one from 11 balls as his test place once again comes under serious scrutiny.
That brought the free-scoring Joe Root to the crease, but even he could not overcome the plucky Sri Lankan attack as Lakmal struck once again.
Root went to clip a straight Lakmal delivery through midwicket but fell away down the Lords’ slope as he was rattled on the pads and given not out by Rod Tucker.
For once, Matthews was accurate in his appeal and Sri Lanka had successfully reviewed a decision for the first time in nine attempts and Root had gone for three.
Like Compton, James Vince has been struggling for runs so far in his fledgling England career and he was next to go as Pradeep got one to nip away just after lunch, taking Vince’s off stump as he trudged off for ten to leave England 84-4 after being 56-0.
Cook un-phased at the other end
Despite all the wickets falling around him, during the cluster of England wickets captain Cook went through to his 48th test fifty after bringing up his 10,000th test run at Durham.
The England opener was the aggressor early on when batting with Hales, yet dug in as Sri Lanka fought back during the second half of the morning session.
Cook and Bairstow rebuild
If there is one man you can almost guarantee runs from at the moment it’s Jonny Bairstow.
Bairstow earned his first bit of luck as he was dropped at square leg which would have left England in a precarious 102-5, but the wicket-keeper-batsman raced to 22 from 22 balls with relative ease in typical Bairstow fashion.
Cook and Bairstow had put on 80 for the fifth wicket when the England skipper was trapped in front by Pradeep for 85 from a gritty 173 balls.
That brought Moeen Ali to the crease, who after a slow start scoring just one from his first 20 deliveries.
Bairstow received his second piece of luck as he survived a marginal LBW review from Pradeep that was given dubiously as umpires call when it looked for all to see as if it was taking leg stump clean out the ground.
The Yorkshireman made his luck pay by inside edging Pradeep for four over the top of the stumps, before Ali hit two classy cover drives to the boundary to go to 19 as England’s sixth wicket partnership passed 50.
Ali didn’t last much longer as he departed for 25 by edging one to Matthews for his second catch of the day, Herath breaking his second partnership of the innings as England found themselves 227-6.
That gave Sri Lanka 16 overs to prize out one more England scalp and despite the pleasure of the new ball, they failed to do so.
Woakes came in and looked calm and collected as he finished on 23 not out, whereas Bairstow went through to his third test century shortly before the close of play and will resume unbeaten on 107 on Friday morning, England closing 279-6.