England's fifth consecutive series victory was never in doubt since the third day of this match, but it was Sri Lanka who finished on a high after an impressive rearguard led by stand-in captain Kumar Sangakkara secured a draw at the Rose Bowl. Sangakkara filled in one of the few blank spots on his fabulous career record with his first hundred in England as the visitors showed impressive resilience with Thilan Samaraweera unbeaten on 87 when the weather closed in for one final time at tea.
In what could be Sangakkara's last Test innings in the country he took the opportunity to partially atone for a disappointing record which had included a previous best of 66. His first-innings waft against James Anderson suggested a player who wasn't entirely focussed on his role, but with a match to save he batted with a steely determination not seen before in the series.
His 25th Test hundred from 217 balls came with a push into the leg side and while there was no huge celebration he gave a contented salute around the ground. He had moments of luck during the innings, but on a lively surface that encouraged the quicks throughout a batsman needed a few things to go his way. By and large, though, he combated everything England threw at him with the style befitted a batsman holding a Test average of 56.
A sure sign that his game was coming back together was in the cover driving - both off pace and later spin - although one of his doses of fortune came on 89 when, having not added a run in eight overs after lunch, he edged a rearing delivery from Anderson over first slip. His innings eventually ended when he drove Anderson to point ten minutes before tea, but with clouds building he had done enough.
The unexpected part of Sri Lanka's resistance came from Rangana Herath, the nightwatchman, as he helped add 75 for the fourth wicket which frustrated England's attempts for early breakthroughts. However, the home side did have chances and weren't at their best in the field. Anderson lured Herath into a drive when he had 5 but Andrew Strauss was distracted from the catch as Graeme Swann moved across into his eye line. Anderson then missed the opportunity to run out Herath with a throw from cover with the batsman well short of the crease.
He would also have been given lbw on 19 had England opted to use the DRS when Swann hit him pad first. Yet, despite those chances it was an impressive innings from Herath who showed determination against the quick bowlers during the first hour then began to expand his strokeplay when Strauss was forced to rotate his options.
The introduction of Jonathan Trott, whose first two overs cost 23, brought Herath to life as he swung him through midwicket off one knee and pulled him through square leg for another to hurry Sri Lanka towards parity. But Herath's attacking intent eventually ended his innings when he missed a sweep at Swann.
Samaraweera provided Sangakkara with excellent support as the deficit was erased before lunch and the time-runs equation started to favour Sri Lanka. They scored at such a rate - 222 runs came in two sessions - that the advantage grew steadily and England soon started to lose their drive to push for victory. They weren't help when Stuart Broad (heel) and Chris Tremlett (leg) picked up niggles during their spells which left Strauss short of options.
Samaraweera took his chance although was given a working over against the short ball by Tremlett and Anderson. A couple of edges flew wide or over the slips as the pacemen made an effort to break through, but he was quick to pick off the loose deliveries especially through the leg side. He also twice used his feet to loft Swann over the top during his second half century of the series, but was denied the chance to reach three figures when the forecast rain arrived.
A series win should never be belittled, but England will have hoped for a more convincing margin than victory based on one crazy session in Cardiff. Their next Test challenge will is the eagerly anticipated visited of India, but before then they face Sri Lanka in one-day cricket. It's a format that suits the visitors much better and they could be considered favourites.