An unbroken partnership of 88 between Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow rescued England from a characteristic batting collapse as rain ended play early at Headingley.
Three wickets in eight balks from Test debutant Dasun Shanaka helped reduce the hosts to 83-5 after lunch as Sri Lanka’s attack profited from poor strokeplay and good conditions for swing bowlers.
But a Test best score of 71 not out from opener Hales and a much brisker unbeaten 54 from Yorkshireman Jonny Bairstow dragged their side back to 171-5 before the bad weather swept in at tea.
Not a ball was bowled in the evening session on a day when grey cloud cover had first tempted the tourists to put England in and then offered significant assistance as they sought to repeat their famous victory here two summers ago.
Cook must wait
England’s captain Alastair Cook had come into the match needing just 36 runs to become the first Englishman – and the youngest man in history – to pass 10,000 Test runs.
In a sedate first hour where the muted atmosphere around the ground was matched by a flat performance by the Sri Lankan bowlers he looked likely to ease past that landmark, even as the runs were slow to come.
But after a prolonged period without the strike he drove at a wide one from Shanaka to be caught behind for just 16, his disappointment evident as he trudged back to the pavilion.
The record will come, quite possibly in England’s second innings, and Cook has all summer to break Sachin Tendulkar’s mark as the youngest past the milestone.
But the captain’s dismissal changed the mood around this revamped ground and gave Sri Lanka a critical foothold in a match they had begun slowly.
Dasun comes out to play
Shanaka had been perhaps the least heralded of a green Sri Lankan attack already missing the experience and pace of Dhammika Prasad.
But two balls after removing Cook he had Nick Compton pushing hard at one outside off stump that moved away, and Lahiru Thirimanne took the catch low down at second slip.
In his very next over he took an ever bigger scalp, that of newly crowned England cricketer of the year Joe Root, the Yorkshireman aiming a big drive at another full away-swinger and edging straight to Kusal Mendis in the gully.
It gave him three wickets in eight balls, Compton and Root both for ducks, and fellow debutant James Vince was then forced to wait a painful 18 deliveries to get off the mark as Shanaka’s fellow swing bowlers tightened the noose.
Vince made it to lunch but could not profit beyond, falling for nine when he sliced a drive off Shaminda Eranga to Mendis at third slip to reduce England to 70-4.
And when Ben Stokes drove loosely at Nuwan Pradeep to be caught at mid-off for just 12, England’s new-look top order was in pieces.
Hales drops anchor, Bairstow attacks
Hales has so far struggle to adapt his brilliant limited-overs game to the sterner examination of Test cricket, averaging just 17 across his eight England innings so far.
But as batsmen around him perished to ill-judged shots the 27-year-old played with greater caution, happy to let the more bellicose Bairstow take the attack to the tourists.
Bairstow has been in rare form for his native county this summer, going on to make at least 150 every time he has passed 50.
And he continued in the same vein that has seen him score more than 2300 first-class runs at an average of above 70 since the start of last summer, going after Shanaka as the new man struggled to maintain his earlier threat.
By contrast only two of Hales’ 12 fours came with Bairstow at the other end.
But the balance worked, and the pair will look to build on their hard work when play restarts on Friday morning.