Tillakaratne Dilshan fell seven runs short of Sri Lanka's first double century at Lord's before rain wiped out the second half of the third day to leave the visitors 372 for 3, 114 behind England's total. Kumar Sangakkara was the other wicket to fall but Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene added 82 for the third wicket against an England attack that remained inconsistent.
Dilshan started the morning on 127 and took a few overs to play himself in before collecting his first boundary of the day through gully, although England allowed him some easy release shots by having fielders on the rope. The imminent arrival of the new ball brought extra aggression from Dilshan as he took consecutive boundaries off Graeme Swann, reaching his 150 off 192 balls, then passed his previous best of 168, made against Bangladesh, with a pull off Stuart Broad.
He often kept England interested by flashing drives through backward point and gully but never held anything back in his stroke play. Shortly after lunch he went past Sidath Wettimuny's 190 in 1984 as Sri Lanka's highest individual score at Lord's, but took another painful blow on the thumb from Chris Tremlett which rattled his concentration.
That coincided with the first sustained period of pressure from England's bowlers as Tremlett and Steven Finn bowled well after lunch. It was Finn who struck when a delivery took nipped into Dilshan and took the back leg into the stumps as he finally started to find rhythm.
Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera had some tough moments with the ball moving around under cloudier skies before rain sent them to the pavilion. Even though the loss of time impacts on the chances of a result Sri Lanka won't have minded avoiding tricky batting conditions which could have undone all their hard work.
Sangakkara, who has a poor record in England, had looked very focussed during the third-wicket stand of 81. He gloved an early boundary just wide of a diving Matt Prior but played nicely through the off side. However, in the first over with the second new ball Tremlett made one bounce and move away from short of a length, which Sangakkara committed to playing and edged to the keeper and left his average in this country rooted below 30. It remains an anomaly among a fine career record.
The new ball offered more encouragement for the bowlers, as did the increasing cloud cover, but too much inconsistency remained which was England's problem throughout. Broad went for 25 runs in a three-over spell, including five boundaries, and it meant the occasional good delivery couldn't build pressure. Finn struggled during his two morning spells, offering up regular leg-side freebies to the batsmen as Sri Lanka cashed in. At one point the first seven overs with the second new ball had cost 50 runs.
Either side of lunch Jayawardene settled in on a ground where he has fond memories with hundreds in his previous two visits, picking off easy boundaries through the leg side when the bowlers strayed onto the pads. While he remains at the crease Sri Lanka will still have sights on a first-innings lead and, although the signs are pointing towards a draw, events in Cardiff show how quickly a Test match can change.