England were put under pressure on the penultimate day of the series-opener at Lord’s when the combination of Shaminda Eranga and Rangana Herath tore through the top order, as the tourists had Alastair Cook’s men at 117-5 at tea.
However, a seventh-wicket stand of 78 from Gary Ballance and Chris Jordan helped England regain the momentum, the former going on to score his maiden international century.
At stumps, England had recovered to 267-8, a lead of 389.
Sri Lanka captain Mathews – who scored 102 as the visitors were bowled out for 453 in their first innings – concedes that the partnership boosted England, but he refused to accept that the match was now a foregone conclusion.
“Until Ballance and Jordan got together we had our chances,” he told Sky Sports.
“I’m not saying we’re out of the game but we need to bat sensibly because they’ve got a healthy lead and the wicket is batting up and down.”
On the performance of his bowling attack, Mathews added: “It’s a really good wicket but I think the bowlers bowled brilliantly in the second innings. We put them under pressure but they’ve got a healthy lead.”
With time running out to secure victory, Cook may have been tempted to declare in order for England to have more time to try and claim the win.
But Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Thirimanne claimed he was not surprised that Cook had opted to keep his side batting.
“I don’t think (I expected England to declare), because they didn’t have enough runs I guess,” he told the post-match press conference. “They lost some wickets in the middle period so they needed to get some runs on the board.
“We bowled really well but some things didn’t go our way. But overall our bowlers did pretty well on that flat wicket, despite some balls going down a little bit later on.”
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