The home side, 1-0 up in the series and resuming on 53 for two after dismissing the touring side for 231, limped into lunch on 139 for five, with Paul Collingwood 15 not out and wicketkeeper Geraint Jones 14 not out.
A blameless pitch and a blazing sun suggested a profitable day for batsmen but it was Sri Lanka's bowlers who took the honours, putting on a far better show than their batsmen had managed the day before. England, meanwhile, were careless in the extreme.Much of the Sri Lankan credit went to Lasith Malinga, who set the tone with a ferociously rapid eight-over spell costing 21 runs.
He also got rid of Alastair Cook, although the left-hander spent most of his walk back to the pavilion cursing himself and his lack of foot movement after edging an attempted drive into his stumps.Cook left for 24, with the score on 73 for three.
It had been an uncharacteristic error from him. Pietersen, too, was not looking himself. He was so subdued that he almost looked mortal. There were no signs of his whipped shots to leg nor his bold advances down the wicket to Muralitharan.
Perhaps he was aware of just how much England have come to depend on his runs after making three centuries in his past three home tests.
Malinga, in particular, worried him, inducing an edge, which fell just short of gully and a mis-timed drive, which almost reached mid-off before scuttling away for four. Malinga also dumped Collingwood on his backside with a well-directed bouncer.
With half an hour to lunch, Pietersen opted to hit his way out of becalmed waters, pulling Muralitharan with the spin for six over midwicket.
Two balls later, though, he was gone. Attempting another big leg-side hit, he top edged straight into the hands of Mahela Jayawardene at short fine leg after making 41.
Andrew Flintoff completed England's miserable morning with the worst shot of all six balls later. Having edged his second ball from Muralitharan just wide of short leg, the England captain was offered a long hop from left-arm spinner Sanath Jayasuriya at the other end. Looking to unload a back-foot drive, Flintoff edged straight to first slip.