Colombo, Apr 4: Alastair Cook and captain Andrew Strauss frustrated Sri Lanka by scoring half-centuries in a solid 122-run opening partnership to put England in command of the second test on Wednesday.
England reached 154 for one wicket at stumps on the second day in reply to Sri Lanka's first innings of 275.
Cook was unbeaten on 77 with Jonathan Trott 15 not out.
Strauss, whose poor form was under scrutiny, was caught behind for 61 as he tried to cut a delivery from spinner Tillakaratne Dilshan that was too close to his body.
Cook faced 227 balls and hit seven boundaries, while Strauss' 126-ball innings included four boundaries.
England is now in a position to push for a series-equaling victory, which the team needs to retain its No.1 spot in the test rankings.
Earlier, England offspinner Graeme Swann and seamer James Anderson shared seven wickets as Sri Lanka added only 37 runs for four wickets on Tuesday.
Swann had figures of 4-75 while Anderson returned 3-62.
"Very good day for England, taking four wickets quickly and cheaply this morning was important obviously. Probably more important is the solid start," Swann said. "It's a wicket where we really need to try and make it count, try to get as far as we possibly can in the first innings. It's going to be very hard to bowl a team out."
"It's going to be attritional cricket for five days. We need to get, in my view, 550 will be wonderful."
Sri Lanka resumed on the second day on 238-6, and Swann dismissed overnight batsmen Suraj Randiv and Anjelo Mathews quickly to give the tourists the edge. Mathews hit 57 off 157 balls for his eighth test half-century.
The pair had put on a promising 31-run partnership for the seventh wicket when Randiv lofted a delivery from Swann and was caught by Kevin Pietersen in the deep.
Sri Lanka lost its last specialist batsmen when Mathews was caught by Strauss at short mid-wicket with the total on 261.
Mathews said Sri Lanka was looking to score more than 300 runs.
"The English bowlers bowled really well. It was not easy to bat on, the pitch was really slow and the bowlers made it even harder for us," he said.
"We've got three more days to go. The English have played really well for the first couple of days, we need to get back into the game by taking a few wickets early on."
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene scored his 31st test hundred to rise to eighth in the list of highest century-makers in test history. His effort helped Sri Lanka recover from a precarious 30-3 after Anderson had ripped through the top order.
Jayawardene shared 124 runs for the fourth wicket with Thilan Samaraweera (54) and added 62 more with Mathews to lift his team.