First Alastair Cook again fell short of 10,000 Test runs – he now needs only another five – then Alex Hales was out for 83 as he failed to convert a second successive Test half-century into a three-figure score, an achievement which would have made him the only Englishman to complete the full set of hundreds in each international format.
Finally, Joe Root appeared to have a tenth Test century in his sights but on a day when Sri Lanka’s catching was exemplary, he got out to the most straightforward of chances, dismissed for 80.
Even in-form Jonny Bairstow then fell two short of 50 as England had to settle for 310 for six in pursuit of a series-sealing 2-0 lead, after Cook chose to bat first under very cloudy skies and floodlights.
Cook, on 15, got himself to within one scoring shot of his 10,000 before pushing out on the back foot at Suranga Lakmal from round the wicket and edging to second slip, where Dimuth Karunaratne took a smart catch low to his left.
Nick Compton was next to go when he paid for a little adventure, taking on the hook against Sri Lanka’s quickest bowler Nuwan Pradeep, and memorably caught just inside the rope by a back-pedalling Lakmal at long-leg.
Hales completed back-to-back half-centuries shortly after lunch when he hit Rangana Herath over long-on for his eighth four.
He was closing on that maiden Test hundred in a stand of 96 with Root until he edged an attempted cut and was wonderfully caught one-handed by Angelo Mathews diving to his right at slip.
Root and James Vince also put themselves in position to cash in, but were unable to do so. The Yorkshireman was especially annoyed with himself, smacking his pads and bat as he left the pitch fuming for looping a tame catch up to cover off the back foot after Pradeep found a suspicion of extra bounce. Vince fell soon afterwards, the second to Siriwardana and another to a brilliant one-handed catch – Lahiru Thirimanne this time taking off to his right at cover to intercept a flat-batted drive at one that turned.
Bairstow and Moeen Ali profited either side of the second new ball to get England back on track with a decent partnership of 70, only for Bairstow to edge a cut behind just before stumps.
ENGLAND First innings (close)
AN Cook c Karunaratne b Lakmal15
AD Hales c Mathews b Siriwardana83
NRD Compton c Lakmal b Pradeep9
JE Root c Silva b Pradeep80
JM Vince c Thirimanne b Siriwardana35
JM Bairstow c Chandimal b Pradeep48
MM Ali not out28
CR Woakes not out8
Extras (b1, lb3)4
Total (6 wickets, 90 overs)310
Fall: 1-39, 2-64, 3-160, 4-219, 5-227, 6-297.
To Bat: SCJ Broad, ST Finn, JM Anderson.
Bowling: Eranga 19-2-67-0, Lakmal 18-3-58-1, Pradeep 19-3-69-3, Herath 24-1-74-0, Mathews 2-1-3-0, Siriwardana 8-0-35-2.