LONDON - Alastair Cook and Eoin Morgan led England's recovery to 342-6 against Sri Lanka on Friday, giving the home side a slight edge at the close on day one of the second test.
Cook struck 96 and Morgan added 79 after England had stumbled to 22-3 in eight overs, having been put in to bat by Sri Lanka at Lord's. Matt Prior weighed in late on with 73 not out.
Playing each ball on its merits, Morgan struck 10 fours and two sixes off 128 deliveries at No. 6 to further advance his claims to replace the retired Paul Collingwood. He fell lbw half an hour before the close to Suranga Lakmal, who finished with 3-79.
Tillakaratne Dilshan's seemingly defensive choice to bowl first under mostly clear skies had paid off early but looked less wise as England improved on a good batting surface.
With Sri Lanka's attack tiring, Prior plundered his runs from 83 balls and Stuart Broad made it to 17 not out.
"It's quite evenly poised still," Morgan said. "We're in that position that allows us to kick on in the morning if we get through the first hour."
But Morgan's dismissal, given by the TV umpire after Billy Doctrove originally ruled it not out, at least means Sri Lanka has hope of an early breakthrough Saturday with England's tail exposed.
Morgan had looked well set to carry England to a strong position but Dilshan tossed the new ball to Lakmal, who trapped the batsman with a delivery that was hitting leg stump.
England might have expected to keep more wickets in hand on a true surface, but Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen all fell to indifferent batting rather than noteworthy bowling.
Things could have been even worse for the home side but, with Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga both retired, Sri Lanka's bowling deteriorated from unremarkable before lunch to occasionally mediocre as Dilhara Fernando leaked runs and struggled with his length.
"Up until tea I thought it was our day," Sri Lanka bowling coach Marvan Atapattu said. "But them getting 170 over 36 overs was not so good. There was a lack of discipline, a lack of experience.
"A lot of our bowlers are in their early days in test cricket."
With momentum swinging back and forth, Ian Bell scratched out 52 to steady the innings in a fourth-wicket stand of 108 with Cook, who had looked sure to become the sixth Englishman to hit a century in three consecutive test innings but mistimed a pull shot off Fernando and skied it to the fielder mid on.
Bell was caught at slip by Tharanga Paranavitana off Chanaka Welegedara before Cook made a mistake that was oddly uncharacteristic for a man who scored a total of 766 against Australia in England's most recent test series.
"He's continued his fantastic form we've seen through the winter," Morgan said. "He's outstanding and a real world-class player. When our backs were against the wall, he scored a real world-class innings."
Morgan showed his intent against Welegedara with a sweet drive back past the bowler for four. Morgan helped himself to another boundary in the next over, hitting Rangana Herath over the top, and soon stepped forward to smash the spinner for a huge six to mid on — taking England to 150 from 272 balls.
Morgan escaped on 35 when an inside edge off Fernando narrowly missed his stumps and went for four. He refocussed to hit his next runs from a six, standing his ground to smash the ball back over the head of bowler Dilshan. He reached an 86-ball half century that included seven fours and two sixes, and Prior hit a pair of backward leaning offside cuts off Farveez Maharoof in the 75th over to keep the scoreboard rolling.
England looked set to go in with only five wickets down, but Dilshan's bowling change paid off as Lakmal broke the 101-run partnership between Morgan and Prior — a record for England against Sri Lanka.
"We're two positive players and two irritating players," Morgan said.
Dilshan had opted to field first, possibly in reaction to Sri Lanka's heavy defeat in the first test, when it scored 400 after choosing to bat but lost by an innings and 14 runs.
Welegedara ended the day with 2-65, and while Sri Lanka has bowling concerns, England has problems of its own.
Strauss scored just a single boundary from 12 deliveries before he fell lbw to Welegedara, leaning across a delivery that was on course to clip the top of leg stump. Trott, whose 203 in the first test meant he averaged a remarkable 66.77 going into the match, went the same way to Lakmal for just 2.
Pietersen's poor form continued as he drove at a swinging delivery from Lakmal and was caught by Dilshan, also for 2.
Pietersen has looked out of sorts at times since losing the test captaincy in 2009 and has one century in 33 innings, but Morgan said his teammate remains relaxed.
"Kev is quite a chilled bloke and he is looking pretty good in the nets," Morgan said. "So I'm sure there's a huge score around the corner."
Stuart Condie can be followed at http://twitter.com/StuartCondieAP