Gary Ballance made a crucial 104 not out as England took their lead to 389 ahead of a fascinating final day of the first Investec Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s.
England’s new number three reached his first Test century with a slog sweep into the Grand Stand in the final over of the day, with England seemingly playing for an overnight declaration in the final hour of play.
Ballance stood firm for the hosts after England slumped to 121/6, having earlier bowled Sri Lanka out for 453 to take a first innings lead of 122.
Angelo Mathews became the third man to put his name on the Honours Boards in the Test match when he reached three figures, having resumed on 81 on the fourth morning.
He reached his ton with an emphatic cover drive to the fence, but fell shortly afterwards, trapped LBW by Liam Plunkett, as the tourists lost their final three wickets in just a little over an hour – the last, that of Nuwan Pradeep – in comical fashion as he fell onto his stumps after getting tied up by a Chris Jordan bouncer.
England started in positive fashion with an opening partnership of 46, but they were soon in trouble in the face of a fine spell from Shiminda Eranga.
The first-change bowler clicked into rhythm at the Nursery End in his second spell, seeing off Alastair Cook - who walked after getting a thin edge through to the ‘keeper - Sam Robson and Ian Bell in quick succession.
The latter two were both bowled by fabulous deliveries, which swung away before nipping back up the slope and flattening the off stump – in the case of debutant Robson, via a small inside edge.
Herath kept the pressure up at the other end, trapping Joe Root plumb LBW and then bowling Moeen Ali with a ball which spun back sharply between his bat and pad.
Matt Prior fell shortly after Tea, tamely cutting a long hop to gully off Nuwan Kulasekara and Sri Lanka sensed they could be heading for a winning position.
But Chris Jordan is becoming the kind of cricketer it’s impossible to keep out of the game, and after driving his first ball to the cover fence, quickly built a crucial partnership with Ballance.
The Sussex bowler has looked at home batting number eight in this match, and played some excellent shots, including a perfect straight drive to the Pavilion boundary, in a knock of 35.
With Ballance anchoring affairs – his first 50 took 130 balls - their stand of 78 took the lead beyond 300 and deflated the Sri Lanka fielders.
And with the match seemingly safe, the nod seemed to come from Cook for Ballance to open up, and the Yorkshire batsman responded brilliantly with a flurry of shots, accelerating from his half-century to his ton in just 53 balls to set up an England victory push on the fifth day.
Tickets for day five are available from Lord’s on Monday, priced at £20 for adults, £10 over 65s and free for under 16s.
Day four photos