Tourists were struggling at 103-5 before the Surrey wicket-keeper batsman helped steer his side to 321-8 at stumps
Ben Foakes revels in 'whirlwind' debut after guiding England to safety against Sri Lanka on Day 1 of first Test
Ben Foakes described his first day as an England Test player as a "whirlwind' after guiding his side to safety with an unbeaten half century against Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
Surrey wicket-keeper batsman Foakes will begin Day 2 on 87 and with England 321-8 after the tourists recovered from 103-5 in Galle.
Foakes, who knows this could just be a one-off chance as Jonny Bairstow regains fitness, built crucial partnerships including an 88-run seventh wicket stand with Sam Curran, who made 48, to defy Sri Lanka's bowlers.
"It was a whirlwind. I always dreamt of my debut, I had a lot of emotions this morning but to get out there and get off the mark eased things. It was a fantastic day," Foakes told Sky Sports.
"It looked tough this morning, it spun a lot. I was trying to grind and make it hard for them to get me out. I had to nudge and nurdle which is my game and then it got easier to score as the day wore on."
England elected to bat first in what was Sri Lankan spin great Rangana Herath's farewell match.
The right-handed Foakes steadied the innings, reaching his half century early in the final session as the tourists lost just three wickets after lunch.
Foakes put on 61 for the sixth wicket with Jos Buttler, who was eventually caught behind off Dilruwan Perera for 38.
Left-hander Curran attacked the bowling, hitting one four and three sixes before falling two short of his fifty to spinner Akila Dananjaya.
Adil Rashid made a useful 35 in a stand of 54 with Foakes that increased the frustration for Sri Lanka's bowlers before he became Perera's fourth victim of the day.
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Jack Leach, batting on 14, then survived some anxious moments in the final two overs to give Foakes a chance to complete a momentous debut century on Wednesday.
Herath claimed his 100th Test scalp at Galle after sending back England captain Joe Root in the opening session.
Only two other bowlers have achieved 100 Test wickets on one ground - Herath's legendary compatriot Muttiah Muralitharan who achieved it at Galle, Kandy and SSC Colombo, and England paceman James Anderson at Lord's.
Herath reached the milestone when Root came down the wicket and missed after a breezy 35.
Root had also steadied England when they stumbled to 10 for 2 after debutant opener Rory Burns was caught behind off Surange Lakmal for nine and Moeen Ali was bowled next ball.
Surrey left-hander Burns had been given the tough task of replacing stalwart Alastair Cook following his retirement in September.
After Root's dismissal, Perera skittled Keaton Jennings four short of his 50 before bowling Ben Stokes around his legs for seven as he attempted to sweep.