Sam Robson struck his maiden Test Match hundred before a late Sri Lankan fightback hauled them back into contention on the second day of the 2nd Investec Test Match at Headingley.
England finished on 320-6 despite being 311-3 an hour before the end of play as Sri Lanka, led by Angelo Mathews, took three wickets for just two runs in a tight period of play just before the close.
However it was Robson who was the standout performer on the second day, a study in concentration throughout, the 24 year old opener accumulated throughout without ever really cutting loose, but looking solid enough to suggest that England’s long search for an opening partner for Alastair Cook may be over for the time being.
Robson, playing in just his second Test, reached his hundred shortly after tea and soaked in the applause before he was dismissed shortly after the new ball was taken, having reached 127.
He was finally dismissed in the 87th over after he played a loose drive to a good delivery from Nuwan Pradeep which nipped in to clip the top of off stump, before Ian Bell, Joe Root and Moeen Ali fell in quick succession shortly before the end of play to leave the game evenly poised.
England had piled on the runs earlier in the day, starting off cautiously before upping the tempo as the Sri Lankans tired in the field.
However the day didn’t start well for the home team, as skipper Alastair Cook was dismissed for just 17 early on, which meant that the England captain has now gone 23 innings without scoring a Test century.
After Cook edged Dhammika Prasad to first slip, Yorkshire batsman Ballance walked to the crease on the back of his first international hundred last week at Lords.
Ballance looked in good touch, and together with Robson he accumulated quietly in the morning session before beginning to accelerate later on. After reaching 74, Ballance edged a seemingly innocuous delivery from Angelo Mathews to Dinesh Chandimal behind the stumps to make it 191-2.
This brought Bell to the crease and he immediately looked in top form, moving rapidly through the gears with all of his trademark shots on view, reaching his 41st Test half-century in his 100th Test from just 71 balls to huge cheers from the Yorkshire crowd.
Robson’s dismissal meant that there was time for a big Yorkshire crowd to see another of their favourite sons as Root walked to the crease to the customary shout of his name ringing round the ground.
Root and Bell kept the tempo high as they moved past the first innings total of 257, but Ian Bell’s dreams of scoring 100 in his 100th Test were dashed as he was caught by Chandimal down the legside to make it 311-4.
Shortly after Bell was dismissed, Root and Ali followed him back to the pavilion after nicking behind and at 311-6 the game became much more even than it had seemed throughout the day.
Chris Jordan and Matt Prior saw out the remaining overs to see that England headed into the third day with a lead of 63 runs.
Sam Robson was left stranded on 98 not out at the end of the afternoon session of the 2nd Investec Test Match at Headingley.
England reached 211-2 at tea on the second day, after Robson and Gary Ballance had piled the runs on before the Yorkshire batsman edged an Angelo Mathews delivery through to Dinesh Chandimal to depart for a well-made 74.
England reached 211-2 at tea on the second day, after Gary Ballance edged a delivery from Angelo Mathews to Dinesh Chandimal behind the stumps to depart for 74 and bring Ian Bell to the crease in his 100th Test to huge cheers from the Yorkshire crowd.
Ballance and Robson had put together a second wicket partnership of 142 before Mathews struck, just as Ballance had threatened to accelerate towards his second century in succession.
However it was Robson who was the standout performer, a study in concentration throughout, the Middlesex opener accumulated throughout with the odd eye-catching stroke as he moved comfortably into the 90s.
The best shot of the session came with Robson on 93, when a crisp off drive reached the cover boundary to put him within one shot of that maiden international hundred.
The only other wicket to fall earlier in the second day was when
Alastair Cook edged to first slip off Dhammika Prasad for 17 with the score on 49, which meant that England captain has now gone 23 innings without scoring a Test century.
England finished the session trailing Sri Lanka by 47 runs with eight wickets in the first innings remaining.
England captain Alastair Cook was the sole casualty on the second morning of the 2nd Investec Test Match between England and Sri Lanka as England reached 106-1.
Cook edged through to first slip early on for 17 to end any hopes he may have had of finally ending his long international draught. It has now been 23 innings since Cook’s last Test century here at Headingley last year.
However there was good news for Sam Robson, who batted with patience to reach his first international half-century as he and Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance rebuilt the England innings against a disciplined Sri Lankan attack.
The pair took their time at the crease after Cook had edged Dhimmika Prasad to Kumar Sangakkara at first slip as he tried to defend the ball towards the covers in similar fashion to the disputed catch of yesterday evening.
Robson and Ballance batted with calm authority and rarely looked in danger as they whittled down the deficit from Sri Lanka’s first innings.
The young Middlesex opener looked organised and played some good drives through the offside as he advanced towards his half-century. There was the odd thick edge through the slips but Robson never looked as though he was going to be out.
Gary Ballance meanwhile continued his good form from Lords last week and hit a couple of big blows off Herath as he finished unbeaten on 30, with Robson on 55.