Chris Tremlett marked his return to the Rose Bowl with a Test-best haul to leave Sri Lanka on 177 for nine when rain forced an early close to the second day of the third and final Test on Friday.
Tremlett, a fast bowler, took six for 42 in 18.2 overs, surpassing his five for 87 against Australia in Perth in December - a match that marked his return to Test duty following a three-year absence since his debut in 2007.
He quickly ripped through Sri Lanka's middle and lower order with four wickets for 16 runs in 32 balls.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka's total represented a revival from the depths of 39 for four.
Dilhara Fernando was 33 not out and Chanaka Welegedara seven not out at stumps in a debut Test at the Rose Bowl that has been plagued by bad weather. Of the 180 overs scheduled for the first two days, only 61.2 have been bowled.
David Saker, the England bowling coach, was delighted by Tremlett's analysis, which followed the 6ft 7in paceman's successful Ashes tour.
"When he gets his length right, he's a huge handful," Saker said. "He's challenging the stumps, the gloves, the splice of the bat.
"Batters really struggle against tall bowlers who keep hitting the splice regardless of length," the Australian said.
"All you need then is a bit of sideways movement that brings the rest of the fielders into play, as well as lbws and bowleds.
"He's been exceptional in the last 12 months."
Tremlett, 29, who made his name at the Rose Bowl with southern county Hampshire before moving to Surrey last season, had helped bowl England to an innings and 14-run first Test win in Cardiff before the drawn second Test at Lord's.