Kandy: Spinners led by Jack Leach helped England close in on a series-clinching victory after Sri Lanka lost a fighting Angelo Mathews for 88 in the second Test on Saturday before rain stopped play.
Moeen Ali trapped Mathews lbw in the first over after tea to end the senior batsman’s solid resistance that had kept alive Sri Lanka’s hopes of chasing down a target of 301.
Leach struck soon to get Dilruwan Perera for one when torrential rain halted proceedings for the day with Sri Lanka on 226 for seven in Kandy.
The hosts, who trail the three-match series 0-1, need another 75 to win with three wickets and three sessions in hand. Niroshan Dickwella was batting on 27 when play was stopped.
Leach has claimed four wickets with his left-arm orthodox spin while Ali has taken two on a turning pitch.
Mathews, who hit his third half-century of the series, took crease with Sri Lanka on a shaky 26-3.
The former captain played a gritty innings that lasted 137 deliveries and also built crucial partnerships.
His 73-run fifth wicket stand with Roshen Silva (37) frustrated the English spinners in the afternoon session.
England wasted chances to dismiss Karunaratne and Mathews with all-rounder Ben Stokes the guilty fielder and off-spinner Moeen Ali the unfortunate bowler on both occasions.
Karunaratne, who made 63 in the first innings, was on 21 when his edge off Moeen flew past Stokes at slip and the batsman also successfully overturned a leg before decision off Adil Rashid on review.
Karunaratne was finally out to some brilliant fielding at short leg from Jennings, who anticipated a sweep shot from the batsman and moved smartly to his left to parry the ball to wicketkeeper Ben Foakes for a catch off Rashid.
Stokes missed a relatively easier chance when he dropped Mathews at slip with the batsman on seven. The right-hander made England pay dearly with another stand of 73 with Roshen Silva for the fifth wicket.
England missed a chance to dismiss Silva, who had top-scored for the hosts with 85 in the first innings, on 32 when they failed to review a not-out verdict to an lbw shout off Moeen. Replays showed it would have been overturned in their favour.
Moeen sent Silva back on 37 with England captain Joe Root opting to successfully review another not out decision for a bat-pad catch.
Mathews and Dickwella thwarted England further with an attacking 45-run stand for the sixth wicket before Moeen dismissed Mathews leg before.
England, who had resumed the day on 324-9, stretched their second innings lead to 300 with overnight batsman Ben Foakes hitting an unbeaten 65.
Foakes, who hit a ton on debut in Galle, added 14 to his overnight 51 and shared 41 runs for the last wicket with James Anderson (12).