After only scoring 67 runs on Wednesday as the tourists were beaten by 10 wickets, they ensured the best-of-five series will go to the final match with a seven-run win at Lord’s on Saturday.
Kumar Sangakkara (112) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (71) restored pride with a 172-run partnership for the second wicket as Sri Lanka posted a daunting 300-9.
And they started well with the ball too, as Alastair Cook (1) and Ian Bell (7) were both dismissed cheaply before England slowly came back into the match.
Jos Buttler struck a century for the hosts only for the experienced bowling attack – led by Lasith Malinga – to strike back and take late wickets.
“That was one hell of a game,” Mathews said. “Tillakaratne and Sangakkara set the platform but we fell away a bit in the middle.
“Jos’ innings was one of the best I’ve seen, he played brilliantly.
“(Lasith) Malinga and (Nuwan) Kulasekara are the most experienced guys in our bowling and that paid off at the end.
“We had to raise our hands up (after making 67 on Wednesday) and score those runs. We knew that if we get 250 we have the bowlers to defend it.”
The two sides travel to Birmingham on Tuesday to battle out the series decider.
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