Sri Lankan pacer Nuwan Pradeep took a three wicket haul as the Islanders aim to avoid a series whitewash on the third day of the Lord’s test on Saturday.
England was reeling at 109 for four at the close of the third day albeit with a lead of 237 runs.
Alex Hales (41*) and night watchman Steven Finn (6*) were the two batsmen at stumps for England.
The home side, who are 2-0 up in the three-match series, were left struggling at 50 for three before first-innings centurion Jonny Bairstow and Hales added 52 for the fourth wicket.
Hales hit two fours in as many balls off Suranga Lakmal and also got a lifeline when he was dropped on 19 off Pradeep with Dimuth Karunaratne failing to hold on to a one-handed chance at slips.
But then Pradeep made amends later on after getting Nick Compton out for 19 and dealing England a major blow.
Compton had been promoted to open the innings in place of skipper Alastair Cook, after the latter suffered a knee injury while fielding close in on Saturday.
That dismissal may prove to be the end of the road for Compton as the batsman admitted that he needed to score big to secure his place in the team.
Incidentally, Compton – playing on his home turf at Middlesex where a stand is named after his grandfather and former England great Denis – was caught behind off a soft dismissal of Shaminda Eranga.
Shortly later England went from 45 for one to 50 for three after Joe Root (four) was bowled by a peach from Pradeep.
Also Hampshire’s James Vince (playing in his debut series) was out for a golden duck after he lost his wicket to Pradeep whilst offering no shot to a delivery which knocked off his off-stump.
Though Pradeep did not get his hat-tricks still he had the consolation of dismissing Bairstow for 32.
Earlier, England and Warwickshire all-rounder Chris Woakes triggered a collapse and picked up a three-wicket haul which saw Sri Lanka being dismissed for 288.
English pacer Steven Finn (who picked up three wickets) was elated with his team’s efforts and labeled it as a ‘very good effort’.
The home team remains uncertain regarding Cook’s fitness with Finn hoping for an ‘unassailable lead’.
The sole positive for Sri Lanka was the seventh-wicket partnership between Kusal Perera (42) and Rangana Herath (31) which yielded71 runs.
Perera’s bold innings was particularly impressive as this was his first match in more than six months after a drugs ban was taken back thanks to a botched analysis.
He was eventually caught behind after a wild slog at James Anderson thus kick starting a slump that saw Sri Lanka lose their last three wickets on 288.