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ENGLAND captain Joe Root's assertive 124 has left the visitors in a reasonable position to defeat Sri Lanka in Pallekele and secure the series with one match to spare.
England have never lost a Test match in which Root has scored a ton and the 15th of his Test career was essential in ensuring the home side will face a difficult fourth-innings chase.
The day had begun with England precariously placed, 0-0 in their second innings, 46 runs in the match and knowing another of the top-order collapses that have been so frequent in recent years couldn't be afforded.
Nightwatchman Jack Leach fell early on LBW to Dilruwan Perera, after which the orthodox opening pair Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns added 73 together for the second-wicket – a significant stand in a low-scoring thriller.
Jennings was caught at slip by Dananjaya de Silva off Akila Dananjaya for 26, the first of six wickets the off-spinner would pick up.
It was quite a response for Akila, whose action was reported to the ICC during the first Test at Galle, where an overuse of his spin variations lead to thoroughly miserable match figures of 2-183.
Dananjaya was impressive but his wickets were overshadowed by an impressive knock from Root who, regardless of the nightwatchman, came out in his preferred No 4 slot.
Root shared a series of important partnerships, the biggest stand worth 82 with Ben Foakes, who hit a six to move to 51 not out, taking England's lead to 278 runs with just one second innings wicket remaining.
Rain and thunder brought an early close but, with the ground well-covered, only significant inclement weather during the next two days will prevent a result.
England could win their first Test series since 2012 and only their second since 2001 against Pakistan, discounting two wins in Bangladesh, who back then were establishing themselves in Test cricket.
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