Moeen Ali struck early to remove nightwatchman Malinda Pushpakumara.
Moeen Ali struck early to remove nightwatchman Malinda Pushpakumara but Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva threatened to grind the tourists down with a confident 96-run stand that comfortably eclipsed anything England managed in their first-innings 285.
Then Stokes showed his uncanny ability to swing a game in his side’s favour, producing a wonderful direct hit to see off Karunaratne (63) and an equally memorable one-handed slip catch off Kusal Mendis’ edge. By lunch Sri Lanka were 139 for four.
After Pushpakumara’s ugly heave to mid-wicket, Karunaratne and De Silva stayed together for 146 deliveries, repelling all three of England’s frontline spinners as well as three exploratory overs from captain Joe Root and a brief burst from James Anderson.
With Karunaratne easing to his half-century and De Silva quickly catching up, it needed something outlandish to break their rhythm and Stokes obliged. Pouncing from gully when De Silva poked into the off-side and set off for a quick single, the all-rounder intercepted on the bounce and hurled down the only stump he had sight of from an unhelpful angle, leaving Karunaratne a couple of inches short.
His next intervention was equally jaw-dropping, flinging out his left hand to snatch the sharpest of slip catches after Jack Leach snared Kusal Mendis’ edge after just three balls.
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