Rangana Herath claimed two wickets to give Sri Lanka a good start in its victory pursuit as England reached 111-2 in chasing a tough 340 to win the first Test on Wednesday.
The left-arm spinner who took six wickets in the first innings bagged openers Alastair Cook (14) and captain Andrew Strauss (27) soon after tea to leave the visitors 48-2.
But Jonathan Trott (40 not out ) and Kevin Pietersen (29 not out) shared an unbroken 63 and kept their team in the hunt.
Herath finished with 2-52.
England still need 229 runs to win with eight wickets in hand on a difficult pitch at Galle International Stadium.
Earlier,England offspinner Graeme Swann took six wickets to help dismiss Sri Lanka for 214 in its second innings.
England went to tea on day three at 27 without loss but soon after the break Cook misread a straighter delivery from Herath and gave a sharp catch to wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene. He was first ruled not out by on-field umpire Rod Tucker but Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene asked for a review and won it in his favor.
With the total on 48,Strauss was brilliantly caught by a diving Tillakaratne Dilshan at short mid-wicket for 27.
Sri Lanka began the day batting,resuming its second innings at 84-5. Overnight batsmen Dinesh Chandimal and Suraj Randiv shared a useful 42-run partnership to help Sri Lanka be 151-8 at lunch.
Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar ended his wicket drought in the first session when he had the first breakthrough of the day to dismiss Chandimal. The batsman tried to hit a delivery that spun away from him,over mid-off but was caught by Pietersen for 31.
Swann completed his five-wicket haul after he reviewed and won an lbw decision against Randiv,who made 18. Herath became Swann’s sixth wicket when he missed a sweep and was bowled for 7.
Prasanna Jayawardene scored an unbeaten 61 to boost Sri Lanka with the advantage of a 125-run first-innings lead.
Riding his luck after being caught and bowled by seamer Stuart Broad off a no ball,Jayawardene hit three sixes and three fours during a 123-ball innings.
England had Sri Lanka eight down for 127 but failed to take advantage as the hosts scored 87 runs for the last two wickets.
Swann returned figures of 6-82 and Panesar took 2-59.