A century opening partnership between captain Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook provided much needed relief for England on the second day of the second Test against Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
England have scored 300 only once on their disastrous winter tour during which they lost four Tests in a row. They will lose their world number ranking if they fail to square the two-Test series against Sri Lanka.
After dismissing Sri Lanka for 275 in their first innings, England were 154 for one at the close with Alastair Cook on 77.
Strauss and Cook put on 112 for the first wicket and were not separated until the 52nd over when the England skipper attempted to cut part-time off-spinner Tillakaratne Dilshan.
He edged a catch to wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene and was out for 61 from 126 deliveries with four boundaries.
The afternoon session made for tedious viewing with only 72 runs added in 32 overs but England were determined to post a useful first innings total on a slow pitch.
Cook, missed at 20 by Lahiru Thirimanne at short-leg. was unbeaten on 77 scored off 227 balls with seven fours and Jonathan Trott who scored a century in the first Test defeat in Galle Test was 15 not out.
Earlier, off-spinner Graeme Swann took three wickets for four runs in just over six overs to clean up the Sri Lankan tail shortly before lunch.
Swann finished with figures of four for 75 as Sri Lanka were bowled out for a below par score after winning the toss and electing to bat.
Sri Lanka, who resumed on 238 for six, added just 37 runs to their overnight total for the loss of their last four wickets against some tight bowling.
Suraj Randiv (12) became Swann's first victim of the day when he threw away his wicket attempting to take the fight to the spinner soon after he came on, but only succeeded in holing out to a leaping Kevin Pietersen at long-on.
Swann then removed Angelo Mathews for 57 when the Sri Lankan vice-captain checked an on-drive which offered England skipper Strauss a routine catch at short mid-wicket.
Tim Bresnan got in on the act when he picked up the wicket of Rangana Herath (2) as the batsman lost patience following a series of blocks and swished at a delivery from outside off stump that caught a faint edge to wicket-keeper Matt Prior.
Swann finished off the Sri Lankan innings by bowling Suranga Lakmal for a duck with a perfect off-break that beat the number 11's defensive prod and zipped between his bat and pad.
Sri Lanka (1st innings): (overnight 238-6)
L. Thirimanne lbw b Anderson 8
T. Dilshan c Prior b Anderson 14
K. Sangakkara c Strauss b Anderson 0
M. Jayawardene lbw b Swann 105
T. Samaraweera lbw b Bresnan 54
A. Mathews c Strauss b Swann 57
P. Jayawardene c Prior b Finn 7
S. Randiv c Pietersen b Swann 12
D. Prasad not out 12
R. Herath c Prior b Bresnan 2
S. Lakmal b Swann 0
Extras: (b-4) 4
Total: (all out, 111.1 overs) 275
Fall of wickets: 1-21, 2-21, 3-30, 4-154, 5-216, 6-227, 7-258, 8-261, 9-270.
Bowling: Anderson 22-5-62-3, Finn 22-4-51-1, Bresnan 21-3-47-2, Patel 16-3-32-0, Swann 28.1-4-75-4, Pietersen 2-0-4-0.
England (1st innings):
A. Strauss c P Jayawardene b Dilshan 61
A. Cook not out 77
J. Trott not out 15
Extras: (nb-1) 1
Total: (for 1 wicket, 66 overs) 154
To bat: K. Pietersen, I. Bell. M. Prior, S. Patel, T. Bresnan, G. Swann, J. Anderson, S. Finn.
Bowling: Lakmal 13-3-34-0 (1nb), Prasad 9-4-24-0, Herath 19-0-46-0, Dilshan 8-1-16-1, Randiv 17-4-34-0.
Sri Lanka lead two-Test series 1-0
Photograph: England captain Andrew Strauss (R) and Alastair Cook run between the wickets during the second day of second Test against Sri Lanka. Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters