Jonny Bairstow eased into life as England's latest number three before eventually being dismissed for 110 as the first day of the final Test approached the close.
Bairstow was parachuted into the problem position on his recall to the side, the sixth player this year to take up the challenge, and looked to the manor born as he guided the tourists past 200 for the loss of just three wickets in Colombo as they pursued a series whitewash.
The 29-year-old lost the wicketkeeping gloves to Ben Foakes due to injury in Galle and was overlooked when passed fit in Kandy, but embraced his opportunity to carve out a new and important niche in the side.
After openers Rory Burns (14) and Keaton Jennings (13) both fell in the first hour, he added exactly 100 with captain Joe Root followed by a 99-run partnership with Ben Stokes through the afternoon, hitting nine fours and a six in his 186-ball stay.
Root began the day by winning his eighth toss in a row, cashing in on his remarkable luck by choosing to bat first for the third time on the trip.
The pitch at Colombo's Sinhalese Sports Club did not offer elaborate early turn, but Burns still contrived to lose his off stump to an ill-judged cut at Dilruwan Perera and Jennings turned Malifa Puspakumara directly to a leg-slip fielder installed just seconds earlier.
At 36 for two Bairstow and Root led a counter-attack. Bairstow's first ball was driven for four through extra-cover, there were back-to-back boundaries off Lakshan Sandakan and even a wonderfully-timed swatted six off Pushpakumara. Root, meanwhile, was finding considerable success on the sweep.
Both men survived DRS referrals as Sri Lanka again wasted their precious resource, a caught behind shout against Bairstow flicking elbow rather than bat and Root hit outside the line of off stump by Sandakan.
The pair continued to wear Sri Lanka down in stifling heat, Bairstow's half-century and the hundred stand both notched off before Root erred. He set himself for a slog-sweep but could only muster a tame top edge as he finished the shot one-handed, departing for 46.
Sri Lanka should have added the wicket of Ben Stokes for a 14-ball duck when he was trapped in front of middle and off by Perera but Chris Gaffaney's poor decision, coupled with their own wasteful use of DRS, allowed him a reprieve.
The fourth-wicket pair went on to frustrate the fielding side until the interval, Stokes moving through the gears with four fours and a six after his slow start and Bairstow only worried by a loud appeal for caught behind on 79.
Replays suggested the tiniest of nicks but once again Suranga Lakmal had no way to challenge, and had to wait until the 65th over to bag their fourth wicket as Stokes was caught in the slips for 57.
Little more than five overs later, Bairstow finally departed for 110, clean bowled by Sandakan, who then took a brilliant catch off his own bowling to dismiss Jos Buttler for a slowly-made 16.
With Moeen Ali and Foakes now at the crease, England reached 280 for six after 79 overs but the latter went for 13 off the bowling of Pushpakumara before Moeen survived a late review to remain at the crease with England 312 for seven at the close.
Bairstow proud to defy critics
Bairstow admitted his frustration at those who he perceives have "castigated" him during his period on the sidelines.
The Yorkshireman did not hold back as he told Sky Sports: "There are different things you go through when you get castigated about being injured doing X, Y and Z when people don't actually see what's gone on.
"The bits behind the scenes, when you're doing your rehab when you're sleeping on an ice machine, the things that people don't see and yet they have an opinion on it.
"It's all well and good when it's going good and people have an opinion on how well you're playing, but it's the hidden things they don't see.
"People that don't sometimes see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, people that sometimes have an opinion when they're sat at home and they don't see the hard work and the graft that goes on in the heat and humidity and all the other stuff.
"I'm proud as punch of myself and everything that I've done over the last few weeks because that injury potentially should have kept me out for six-to-eight weeks and I'm back in four weeks and playing in a Test match."