Chris Woakes was closing in on a century as England Lions reached 302 for five at stumps on day one of the third unofficial Test against Sri Lanka A in Colombo.
Lions captain Woakes was 84 not out after combining with Scott Borthwick (53no) for an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 130.
The tourists had been in some danger when Varun Chopra departed for 83, leaving them 172 for five.
But Woakes and Borthwick, who made his Test debut in the final Ashes Test in Sydney, repelled the home bowling to wrestle control away.
The Lions lost openers Sam Robson (duck) and Alex Lees (20) cheaply before James Taylor - a double centurion in last week's second match - was bowled by Lahiru Gamage for 14.
Gamage was the pick of the Sri Lanka bowlers as he claimed two for 47.
England Lions lead the three-match series 1-0 following a 167-run win in the opener at Pallekele.