Southampton, Jun 17: Sri Lankan top order failed miserably against England's seam bowlers a frustrating day of rain delays in the first ever Test at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.
James Anderson - returning from a side injury - and Chris Tremlett made the most of swing-friendly conditions to take two wickets apiece as the tourists slumped to 81-4 in 38 overs.
Debutant Lahiru Thirimanne, Tharanga Paranavitana and veteran duo Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were all dismissed cheaply as England's bowlers made the most of the short bursts of play that were possible between the weather interruptions.
But the tourists staged a mini-recovery as Thilan Samaraweera (24 not out) and Prasanna Jayawardene batted out a tricky final hour despite Stuart Broad straining every sinew in a bid to bowl himself into form.
It was the type of day that suits bowlers far more than batsmen, who had a struggle to maintain their focus and rhythm when forced off by rain delays.
And the flurry of wickets entirely justified England captain Andrew Strauss's decision to bowl first on a wicket generally regarded as a batsman's paradise.
But despite heavy cloud cover, and a pitch offering plenty of bounce and carry, England's bowling initially followed a similar pattern to that in the drawn second Test at Lord's, with Broad and Anderson - who replaced Steven Finn - firing too many balls down the leg side.
The wayward bowling gifted 21-year-old left-hander Thirimanne a relatively straightforward start to life in Test cricket after he was called up to open the batting in place of skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan, whose thumb was broken by a Tremlett lifter at Lord's.
At the other end, Paranavitana made a typically cautious start to his innings until his concentration was disturbed by a rising delivery from Broad that struck him on the hand, leaving the batsman requiring medical attention.
In the next over England were convinced they had their man when Paranavitana appeared to edge Anderson through to Prior. But umpire Aleem Dar remained unmoved, and third umpire Billy Doctrove stuck by the not out verdict when replays proved inconclusive.
Any sense of injustice was soon forgotten as England got their breakthrough. With dark clouds starting to encircle the arena, Thirimanne, who had clipped and prodded his way to 10 runs from 37 balls without a single boundary, pushed at an away-swinger from Anderson and was pouched by Strauss at first slip.
Moments later, the rain began to fall and an early lunch was taken, with England all the happier for having broken an obdurate opening stand.
When play resumed England wasted little time before making further inroads in the Sri Lankan batting order.
Paranavitana was trapped on the back pad by the fifth delivery after the interval from Tremlett and stand-in captain Sangakkara's miserable series continued when he took a wild swipe at an Anderson ball well outside off stump and was caught behind.
Another two-hour rain delay again seemed to work in England's favour as a refreshed Tremlett removed Mahela Jayawardene with a snorting delivery which moved away off the seam and took the outside edge.
At that point there appeared every chance of England running through the Sri Lankan tail, but Samaraweera found his touch with two textbook cover drives to the fence and Prasanna Jayawardene offered solid support as they battled through to the close.
The 80 minutes of unbroken play in the final session at least gave the Rose Bowl faithful some return on their investment as the 10-year-old home of Hampshire became the UK's 10th Test cricket venue.
But the wet weather did little to alter the complexion of a series which, apart from the sensational climax in Cardiff, has provided little in the way of drama, with more than 11 hours of play having been lost to rain.
And with more rain forecast for Friday and Saturday, Sri Lanka face an uphill struggle to secure the win they need to draw the series 1-1.