Jack Leach took centre stage as England took a big step towards victory in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.

Leach’s left-arm spin proved the most effective tool in the tourists’ armoury, claiming three wickets as Sri Lanka reached 190 for five at tea on day four – 272 shy of their notional target.

Making just his second international appearance, Leach removed Kaushal Silva and Kusal Mendis before bowling home captain Dinesh Chandimal with a ripper.

Jack Leach found his groove in the afternoon session to propel England towards victoryJack Leach found his groove in the afternoon session to propel England towards victory (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes chipped in with a wicket each but Sri Lanka’s own irresponsible batting was arguably the biggest part of their downfall as they failed to match the application and concentration showed by centurion Keaton Jennings on Thursday.

The openers had started well in a 51-run stand, rationing England to a solitary chance in the first hour – Dimuth Karunaratne uncharacteristically dropped by Stokes at slip to deny Moeen.

Then Silva (30) gave it away, stooping to sweep Leach and falling lbw after being beaten in the air. He then compounded the mistake, burning a DRS review on his way.

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Less than three overs later Karunaratne decided he would take the aerial route against Moeen, an ill-judged scheme that saw him club a firm return catch back at the off-spinner.

Stokes was tossed the ball just before lunch and promptly made it 98 for three. One delivery after Dhananjaya de Silva successfully overturned a caught behind decision, Stokes tightened up his line and took an indisputable edge that nestled safely in the hands of Joe Root.

Mendis and Angelo Mathews cooled the charge in the afternoon, putting on 45 as Leach searched for his rhythm at one end and Stokes bombarded them with a snarling spell at the other.

Angelo Mathews made his second half-century of the matchAngelo Mathews made his second half-century of the match (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

The all-rounder deserved further reward and would have had it when he hurried Mathews with a short ball on 17. The batsman turned a pull straight to James Anderson at midwicket, where a regulation catch popped out.

While he made the most of it, reaching his half-century by tea, Mendis gave it away on 45. One ball after a loose lofted drive off Leach he attempted an identical stroke and was caught by a back-pedalling Moeen.

Chandimal can at least claim to have been beaten, Leach drawing him in on a middle-and-leg line and finding sufficient turn to clip off stump.