Ballance’s patient unbeaten 104 took England to 267-8 at the close of day four, a lead of 389, and kept them on course to win the first contest of a two-match series. The Yorkshire player was offered little assistance from his colleagues, though, all-rounder Chris Jordan’s 35 the next best England contribution as Sri Lanka bowlers Shaminda Eranga and Rangana Herath took three scalps apiece.
“We have put ourselves in a good position to win the game,” said Ballance, who brought up his ton with a six in only his second Test match.
“They bowled well but I knew I just had to bat time and scoring would become a lot easier.
“I came in in a tough situation and just tried to ride the pressure. We might still have a few overs out there tomorrow, I’m not too sure. I didn’t really think about getting a hundred tonight but I went for it. It’s a great feeling and I can’t really describe my emotions right now.”
An intriguing day began with Sri Lanka bowled out for 453, despite Angelo Mathews (102) following up Kumar Sangakkara’s ton, in response to England’s first innings total of 575-9 declared.
Yet the tourists wrestled back the initiative with a flurry of early wickets, England slipping from 46-0 to 121-6 as seamer Eranga claimed captain Alastair Cook (28), fellow opener Sam Robson (19) and the usually trusty Ian Bell (9), while slow left-armer Herath toppled middle-order batsmen Joe Root (15), Moeen Ali (4) and Jordan.
Only debutant Jordan, who took 3-102, provided robust resistance as he and Ballance put on 78 for the seventh wicket. The latter cut loose in the closing stages and brought up his century on the first ball of the last over with a slog-sweep. Ten wickets now stand between England coach Peter Moores and the first Test win of his second spell in charge.