Jos Buttler
Jos Buttler (AFP Photo)

Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler dug England out of a dangerous hole after another top order collapse saw the tourists in trouble against Sri Lanka on Sunday as they sought a winning lead.

Stokes and Buttler took England’s second innings from 39/4 to 110/4 at lunch on the third day, building a strong 204-run lead despite some heart-stopping escapes that may cost Sri Lanka the match.

Buttler was unbeaten on 38 and Stokes 32, having been the beneficiary of two basic blunders by Sri Lankan spinner Lakshan Sandakan.

Left-arm spinner Sandakan had Stokes caught at cover on 22, then at slip on 32, only for replays to show he had overstepped the bowling line on each occasion.

Stokes was on his way back to the dressing room when he was recalled both times. He shook his head in disbelief as he walked off for lunch.

Buttler was given out lbw on 27 to part-time off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva, but the decision was overturned when the ball was projected to be travelling over the stumps upon review.

Sri Lanka started the day brilliantly with Dilruwan Perera taking Keaton Jennings lbw with the first ball of the day when England resumed on three for no wicket.

Perera soon had Rory Burns lbw for seven and first-innings centurion Jonny Bairstow caught at short leg by substitute fielder Kaushal Silva.

Left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara took England captain Joe Root caught and bowled for seven leaving the tourists in trouble.

Buttler made 38 off 39 balls, while Stokes went to lunch on 32 off 53. They struck three boundaries each, but went for sweeps and reverse-sweeps that brought valuable runs and left Sri Lanka facing a mountain when they bat.