James Anderson marked his comeback to England duty by taking two for 24 leaving the tourists tottering at 81 for four.
Anderson too hot for Sri Lanka to handle on rain-hit first day
James Anderson marked his comeback to England duty by taking two for 24, while Chris Tremlett struck on the ground where he made his name with southern county Hampshire, with figures of two for 17.
Anderson, the Lancashire seamer who missed the drawn second Test at Lord's with a side injury, replaced Steven Finn as England looked to build on a 1-0 series lead secured by victory in the first Test in Cardiff.
After Andrew Strauss, the England captain, won the toss and fielded, Anderson struck in the 13th over. Lahiru Thirimanne, the Test debutant, in for injured Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had his thumb broken by Tremlett while making 193 at Lord's, edged a drive through to Strauss at first slip and fell for 10.
Two balls later, the rain that had delayed the start by more than an hour returned and forced an early lunch with Sri Lanka 23 for one.
And five balls after an 81-minute rain break, 23 for one was 23 for two when Tharanga Paranavitana was lbw on the back foot to a full length swinging delivery from Tremlett.
Kumar Sangakkara, the stand-in captain, made just two before he was caught behind by Matt Prior trying to drive an Anderson delivery that cut away off the pitch. It took the left-hander's tally for the series to a meagre 65 runs at an average of 13.
Mahela Jayawardene also fell quickly, caught by Matt Prior off Tremlett for four, as the tourists were tottering at 39 for four. But Thilan Samaraweera (24) and Prasanna Jayawardene (10) then steadied the Sri Lanka ship.
T Piranavitana lbw b Tremlett 11
L Thirimanne c Strauss b Anderson 10
K Sangakkara c Prior b Anderson 2
M Jayawardene c Prior b Tremlett 4
T Samaraweera not out 24
P Jayawardene not out 10
Extras: (b-2 lb-13 w-4 nb-1) 20
Total: (four wickets, 38 overs) 81
To bat: Thisara Perera, Rangana Herath, Dilhara Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Chanaka Welegedera
Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-23, 3-29, 4-39
Bowling (to date): Anderson 16-6-24-2 (1w), Broad 11-2-25-0 (2w), Tremlett 11-5-17-2 (1nb, 1w)