England shuffled their batting line-up in Kandy, promoting Ben Stokes to number three, bumping Jos Buttler to five and shunting Moeen Ali back to six but all had come and gone, with varying success, when Curran made his latest eye-catching intervention.
The 20-year-old struck six sixes as he shepherded last man James Anderson to a last-wicket stand of 60, the highest of the day and one that sapped the home side of their growing enthusiasm.
He would have been back in the pavilion for just one, but Niroshan Dickwella badly botched his stumping attempt, and there were further escapes on seven and 53, the latter a glaring drop at long-on.
But Curran, who helped steady England on day one in the Galle Test with a gutsy 48, seized his moment with style.
Things had been looking bleak at 89 for four, but Buttler turned in an imaginative 63 in 67 balls, quickly deciding to focus on an almost exclusive diet of orthodox and reverse sweeps.
Stokes’ elevation was less of an immediate success, lbw for 19 defending Dilruwan Perera on the back foot for 19, having narrowly survived a similar appeal.
Rory Burns had earlier impressed at opener, compiling a measured 43 before falling to a sharply spinning delivery from Akila Dananjaya that bit and took the outside edge.
Not all of his colleagues were as blameless. Keaton Jennings was first to go courtesy of a familiar nibble outside off stump, Joe Root was late and loose on a Malinda Pushpakumara delivery that squirmed through the gate and Moeen a tame lbw victim.
Most baffling was England’s Galle hero Ben Foakes, who declined to challenge the umpire’s verdict that he had been caught slip, despite replays suggesting he made no contact with the ball.
Curran had just 16 from 65 balls when Anderson arrived at 225 for nine, clubbing 48 from his next 54 deliveries and farming the strike deftly.
Anderson was incorrectly given out lbw first ball, overturning it and then watching from the other end as Curran cashed in with some crushing blows.