Colombo: Jonny Bairstow, restored to the England side but shorn of his keeping gloves, celebrated his return with a sparkling 110 to help them to 312 for seven on the opening day of the third and final Test against Sri Lanka on Friday.
The wicketkeeper missed the series opener in Galle with an ankle injury and the brilliant batting and neat glovework of his replacement Ben Foakes kept Bairstow out of England’s series-clinching victory in Pallekele.
Brought back in for the dead rubber as England’s fifth candidate batting at number three in as many Tests, Bairstow added 100 with Joe Root and 99 with Ben Stokes to rescue the tourists, who were 36-2 at one stage in the morning session.
Moeen Ali was batting on 23 at stumps with Adil Rashid on 13 at the other end.
Earlier, Joe Root continued what has become almost a Test match ritual of late when the England captain won his eighth successive toss before electing to bat.
However, off-spinner Dilruwan Perera soon drew first blood for Sri Lanka when he hit the top of Rory Burns’s off-stump to dismiss the opener for 14.
Malinda Pushpakumara dismissed Keaton Jennings for 13 in his first over to drive home the advantage before Bairstow and Root began the rebuilding work.
Bairstow used his feet against the spinners and swept them with confidence, the best illustration being when he slog-swept Pushpakumara over the square-leg boundary for an effortless six.
England scored at close to four-runs-per-over in the morning session but Root’s usual composure deserted him after lunch when he fluffed a slog-sweep attempt against wrist-spinner Lakshan Sandakan and was caught at midwicket to depart for 46.
Stokes survived two leg-before appeals before he could open his account and Sri Lanka were unable to challenge the not-out decisions having blown both their reviews in the first session.
Bairstow swept Sandakan for a single to bring up his 100. The batsman then took off his helmet and let out a roar before dropping his bat and pumping his fists in an animated celebration.
Sandakan (4-91) dismissed Stokes for 57 and also accounted for Bairstow, who was bowled after a heave across the line.
Bairstow studded his sixth Test century with nine boundaries and a six.
Sri Lanka claimed four wickets in the final session but England still glided past the 300-mark.
The tourists, enjoying an unassailable 2-0 lead, brought in seamer Stuart Broad for the rested James Anderson, while Bairstow replaced injured all-rounder Sam Curran.
Suranga Lakmal continued to lead the hosts in absence of regular skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who has not recovered from a groin injury.