England tightened their grip on the second Test, but were kept in check by Sri Lanka towards the end of a glorious day of cricket in the Headingley sun.
Middlesex’s Sam Robson led the way with a century in just his second Test for England, eventually clean bowled by Nuwan Pradeep on 127.
Tasked with restoring national pride after England’s World Cup humiliation, the Three Lions resumed play on 36-0, after bowling Sri Lanka out inside the first day for 257. A Stuart Broad hat-trick had been the highlight of play on day one, but it was the turn of England’s batsmen to shine against a labouring Sri Lankan attack.
Their innings did not begin all that smoothly, though, with captain Alistair Cook an early casualty, heading back to the pavilion on 17, caught by Kumar Sangakkara off the bowling of Dhammika Prasad. After coming agonisingly close to victory in the first Test at Lord’s, head coach Peter Moores seems to be eager to press ahead and secure a respectable lead as early as possible.
And by the end of day two, his troops had not let him down, with a number of fantastic knocks after Robson’s headline-grabbing performance. Gary Ballance struck 74, to follow on from his own ton in the first match, while Ian Bell made relatively easy work of his 64.
However, though Sri Lanka struggled for wickets for a large part of the day, they surged back into the game, putting England under pressure with a late flurry.
Robson, Bell, Joe Root and Moeen Ali were all dismissed after five o’clock to leave the home side on 320-6 at stumps.
Ali in particular will already be looking towards both sides’ second innings after scoring just two and failing to take any Sri Lankan wickets.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Matthews was the key man with the ball, getting the better of both Balance and Root.
Moores will rightly feel somewhat disappointed at his side’s late collapse, but although they are no longer running away with the Test, there were encouraging signs in abundance. Robson looked far more at ease after his toils in the first match, even though it had been played on his home ground.
More widely, it was one of England’s strongest Test batting performances for a long time, at least until tea.
England lead Sri Lanka by 63 with four wickets remaining going into the third day.