England captain Joe Root struck his 50th test fifty to put them in a strong position on the first day of the opening test after Dom Bess took five wickets, as the tourists bowled out Sri Lanka for a paltry 135.
An unbeaten 110-run partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Root saw England to 127-2 at stumps on Friday (NZ time), trailing by eight runs, with the opportunity to go on and build a significant lead after Sri Lanka posted the lowest first-innings score in a test at the Galle International Stadium.
The pair steadied matters after spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, who opened the bowling, had removed England openers Dom Sibley (4) and Zak Crawley (9) cheaply.
Root, in his 98th test, survived a leg before decision when on 20, which was overturned on review, before reaching his half century off 94 balls. He will resume on 66 with Bairstow playing a strong supporting role with 47 not out.
Bess took 5-30 off just 10.1 overs with strong back-up from Stuart Broad (3-20), as the home side failed to take advantage of winning the toss with some wayward batting.
Bess got off to the perfect start when he took the wicket of the dangerous Kusal Perera with only his second ball of the morning. Attempting an ambitious reverse sweep, Perera succeeded only in top edging the ball to Root at slip to depart for 20, the first of several ill-considered shots from the home batsmen.
Niroshan Dickwella was caught at backward point for 12 while Dasun Shanaka, who scored 23, went in bizarre circumstances, sweeping his shot onto the ankle of Bairstow at short leg, popping it up into the air for wicketkeeper Jos Buttler to claim.
Preferred to England's record test wicket taker James Anderson, Broad bagged opener Lahiru Thirimanne and struggling Kusal Mendis in the same over for the first two wickets of the test and then added Angelo Mathews after lunch.
Dinesh Chandimal, who took over the captaincy from injured Dimuth Karunaratne, top scored for the hosts with 28.
Sri Lanka were forced to leave out Karunaratne due to a fractured thumb - another injury blow to a team that suffered several setbacks on their tour of South Africa earlier this month.