England's pace-spin duo of Matthew Hoggard and Monty Panesar combined to dismiss Sri Lanka for just 188 on the opening day of the first cricket Test here on Saturday.
England replied with 49-1 by stumps after losing opener Alastair Cook to the third ball of the innings when he was trapped leg-before by 100-Test veteran Chaminda Vaas.
Captain Michael Vaughan was unbeaten on 13 and Ian Bell was on 36 as England attempt to put up a big score on a barren wicket that is later expected to assist the spin of Muttiah Muralitharan.
The off-spinner, who needs five wickets to overtake retired Australian Shane Warne's world record Test tally of 708, came on in the 12th over and conceded two runs in three overs.
Hoggard grabbed four wickets in a deadly opening burst while Panesar cleaned up the Sri Lankan tail after a defiant sixth-wicket stand of 104 between Kumar Sangakkara and wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene.
Left-handed Sangakkara made 92 and Jayawardene chipped in with 51 to rescue the hosts, who were tottering at 42-5 after electing to bat at the Asgiriya stadium.
Sangakkara continued the same form that saw him compile 192 in the second Test against Australia in Hobart last month.
He hit 13 boundaries before being denied a 16th Test century by Paul Collingwood, who picked up a brilliant one-handed catch at backward point as the batsman cut a short ball from James Anderson.
Panesar claimed three of the last five wickets that fell for 40 runs to help England regain their pre-lunch advantage.
About 3,000 English supporters, who almost outnumbered local fans, saw 30-year-old Hoggard slice through the batting in the morning session, with three of his victims falling to catches by wicket-keeper Matthew Prior.
"We said the night before that it would be a good toss to lose," said Hoggard.
"History shows the first innings here is the lower-scoring of the two, so we were not too bothered.
"They got a good partnership going but I thought our bowlers stuck to the task magnificently well.
"If you had said at the beginning that we would lose the toss and be 150 behind with one wicket down we would have taken it.
"We have got a good start and it's now up to us to make sure we follow it through and get a big first-innings total."
Sangakkara praised Hoggard's efforts, but hoped Sri Lanka would also bowl England out cheaply on the second day.
"I thought the wicket was very good," said the Sri Lankan vice-captain.
"Hoggard bowled well at the start and put the ball in the right areas and got the ball moving just enough to take the edges.
"We've just got to learn from this, move on quickly, and bowl England out for as few as possible."
Left-handed Sanath Jayasuriya, who is reportedly considering retiring from Test cricket before the series is over, hit two superb cover drives in the first two overs, but did not last long.
The 38-year-old perished in the third over when he drove Ryan Sidebottom uppishly to the cover region, where Kevin Pietersen lunged to his right to take a good catch with both hands.
Michael Vandort fell in the 10th over when he mistimed a flick off Hoggard on the slow pitch and offered Vaughan an easy catch at mid-on.
England struck immediately after the first drinks interval when Hoggard forced Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene (one) to edge an outswinger to Prior.
The Yorkshire paceman, who fashioned England's win in a first-class match in Colombo earlier this week with a five-wicket haul, then removed Chamara Silva and Jehan Mubarak in similar fashion in his next over.