Batsman Jonathan Trott’s 112 gave England hope of successfully chasing a record 340, but the spin of Rangana Herath, who finished the match with 12 wickets, flummoxed them and the tail offered scant resistance in Galle.
Defeat in next week’s second match in Colombo will end England’s reign as the world’s topranked Test team, heightening scrutiny of under-fire Strauss, who has hit just one century in his last 48 innings.
“I can understand but it’s not something I’m focusing on,” said Strauss, whose team lost their last six wickets for just 31 and were whitewashed by Pakistan in the Middle East earlier this year.
“It’s not the sort of question I’m going to answer in the middle of a series. My focus is very much on winning the next game.
It would be wrong of me to think anything else at this stage.
“I feel in good form but you’re judged on your performances and I haven’t performed well enough. That’s very frustrating but hopefully I’ll put it right next week.”
Prior was the only batsman to offer Trott robust assistance, his solid 41 taking England to 233-4 and raising the prospect of an historic run chase, before he too fell to slow left-armer Herath (6-97).
And when Trott nudged offspinner Suraj Randiv, who with Herath took 18 of the tourists’ 20 wickets, to leg-slip, Sri Lanka sensed only their second win in 18 Tests, England’s last three batsmen offering a feeble eight runs.
Strauss faces an uphill task to level the two-match series, in all likelihood without injured fast bowler Stuart Broad, and Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene conceded England had major problems combating spin.
He said: “They have lost four in a row now in these kind of conditions against spinners, so maybe they do.”