Sri Lanka's difficult preparations ahead of the first Test continued on the second day at Derby as their top order floundered against a strong England Lions pace attack. Jade Dernbach was the most successful of the quartet with 5 for 44 while Ajmal Shahzad and Graham Onions claimed two apiece as the tourists were bowled out for 266.
At 97 for 6 the innings was hurtling towards a rapid conclusion, but an eighth-wicket stand of 89 between Thisara Perera and Suraj Randiv provided some belated resistance. Randiv, who has one first-class century to his name, finished on 76 but it couldn't make up for an expensive bowling performance. Dernbach returned to mop up the tail by bowling the last two batsmen with consecutive deliveries and be on a hat-trick for a second time.
While the opening day was spent debating the merits of Eoin Morgan, who fell for 193 in the morning session, and Ravi Bopara - and the seemingly nailed-on Test place for the latter - the major interest then switched to England's reserve pace bowlers. One of them is likely to take the place of the injured Tim Bresnan in the squad for the first Test.
Shahzad has impressed during his short international career and, given his ability to find both conventional and reverse swing, would be the most like-for-like replacement for Bresnan. Two big wickets of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara won't have harmed his chances, but Dernbach has shown there is a rich pool of talent to choose from.
The other major interest was the ability of the Sri Lanka batting to adjust to tougher conditions than they experienced at Uxbridge. They were given an awkward 20-minute session before lunch and Dilshan should have departed for 8 but Samit Patel couldn't gather the edge at third slip.
Dilshan was quick to attack any short balls, but Tharanga Paranavitana was trapped lbw by Onions to end the opening stand of 59. Dilshan made the most of being dropped in the previous match against Middlesex to score 123 and was motoring again when he slashed to first slip in Shahzad's first over.
The batting then began to cave as Dernbach claimed a notable scalp when Mahela Jayawardene guided an edge to third slip where Patel this time held on comfortably. Shahzad then struck again when Jonathan Bairstow held an excellent leg-side catch to remove Sangakkara, leaving Sri Lanka's two main batsmen one more innings before the Test series.
Dernbach had the tourists lurching towards a possible follow on when Dinesh Chandimal edged to second slip and Prasanna Jayawardene was pouched at first in consecutive balls. It was far from the ideal preparation for a Test match and England will hope there is some life in the Cardiff pitch so they can target the Sri Lankan batsmen in a similar vain to the Lions bowlers. Given Cardiff's history, though, that is unlikely so Sri Lanka may feel more comfortable.
It is also to their credit that the innings didn't subside in a heap. Although Thilan Samaraweera let himself down with a flat-footed drive against Onions after reaching 41, Randiv and Perera gave the visitors a much-needed boost. They played aggressively, which knocked some of the bowlers off their length. Perera scored at more than a run-a-ball, while Randiv went to a well-constructed fifty from 91 deliveries, but the partnership was ended when Perera lofted Patel's first ball to mid-on.
Earlier, Morgan fell seven runs short of his second first-class double hundred. He was given an easy restart to his innings after being 156 overnight when Thisara Perera served up two full tosses in the first over of the day as he took three boundaries. Morgan also added a fifth six with a slog-sweep off Randiv as he closed in on the career-best of 209 not out he made for Ireland, against UAE, in the Intercontinental Cup.
He was batting so freely that the double hundred appeared a formality but Perera, after changing ends following the expensive start, trapped him leg before to end a 226-ball innings. The England selectors were again present and they will have been impressed by Morgan's performance even if it won't earn him a Test place.
The fifth-wicket stand with Patel was extended to a ground record of 266 as Patel also latched onto a few early offerings from the Sri Lankan bowlers. He was the first wicket of the day when Dilhara Fernando forced one through his defences for 119.
Bairstow, the Yorkshire wicketkeeper, looked composed at the crease and collected a few meaty boundaries before chipping a catch to mid-on where Fernando tried his best to drop it then held on at the fourth attempt. Randiv eventually managed to open his expensive wicket account when Onions missed a charge down the pitch and at the end of the over Hildreth declared to allow the Lions quick bowlers a chance to impress. They didn't disappoint.