England 336 (Bairstow 110, Stokes 57, Sandakan 5-95) and 230 (Buttler 64, Dilruwan 5-88) beat Sri Lanka 240 (Karunaratne 83, de Silva 73, Rashid 5-49) and 284 (Mendis 86, Roshen 65, Leach 4-72, Moeen 4-92) by 42 runs
A stunning piece of fielding from the tourists was, typically, the defining moment of the fourth day's play, as England snuffed out a fighting sixth-wicket stand, then withstood some feisty hitting from the No. 11, to complete a sensational 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka.
Requiring six wickets at the start of the day, they were made to bowl 59.4 overs before the opposition finally succumbed, going down eventually by 42 runs. Kusal Mendis hit 86, Roshen Silva 65, and last man Malinda Pushpakumara smacked 42 off 40 that was equal parts blind luck and adventure. It was left-arm spinner Jack Leach who took the winning wicket in the over after tea, finishing with 4 for 72 for the innings, while offspinner Moeen Ali claimed 4 for 92.
This is now not only England's first 3-0 whitewash away from home since 1963, it is also only the third occasion in which Sri Lanka have lost all three Tests in a home series, having done so previously to the great Australia team in 2004, and against India last year. When the first Test began, many believed Sri Lanka to be slight favourites. That they have been beaten so resoundingly will prompt some soul-searching.
England, meanwhile, could scarcely have hoped for such joy on this tour. Aside from the Tests, they also brushed Sri Lanka aside in the limited-overs formats, winning the one-off T20, and the ODI series 3-1.
It was typical of this series that it was a sublime piece of England fielding that took Sri Lanka by the collar and slammed them against a wall, just as the hosts had seemed to be getting a foothold. Mendis and Silva had been cruising for the majority of their partnership, picking up regular runs into the outfield, and pouncing whenever the England spinners erred. Sri Lanka were never in control of this chase, but so long as these two were in the middle, looking as comfortable as they were, the hosts had some hope. Only the wicket of nightwatchman Lakshan Sandakan fell in the first session.
Soon after lunch, though Leach and Adil Rashid put together a few miserly overs, and there was suddenly a little tension. In the 57th over, a bit of foreshadowing: Mendis hits a ball to mid-off and calls his partner through for a quick single, but Roshen is busy ball-watching, and doesn't respond. On that occasion, though Mendis was two thirds down the pitch, he was able to return safely, thanks in part to a wayward throw from Stuart Broad.
Next over, though, Leach didn't make the same mistake, running in from deep square leg. Roshen had turned the ball around the corner, run the first one hard, and turned for the second. Mendis merely ambled to the strikers' end, and saw Roshen sprinting back as he made his own turn. Perhaps figuring he was running to the non-striker's end, Mendis decided to go through with the second. But Leach was aware of how slow Mendis was. Picking up cleanly, he took aim at the non-striker's stumps, and threw them down with a laser beam from 40 metres out. Mendis, who had batted so beautifully, trudged dejectedly back. He was the fourth Sri Lanka batsman to fall for 80-odd over the last two Tests. No one made a ton in the series.
Until that feisty final stand, the remainder of Sri Lanka's lower order unraveled meekly. Niroshan Dickwella made his usual lightweight contribution, sweeping a few, never quite looking settled in the middle, then coming down the pitch to smack Leach down the ground for four, before perishing next ball, caught at short leg. Dilruwan Perera was soon out to bat-pad as well, feeding Keaton Jennings his sixth catch of the match - equalling an England record.
Sri Lanka's hopes were all but snuffed out already, but when Roshen was out lbw to Moeen Ali (England brilliantly reviewing on an occasion where Roshen had hit the ball with the full face of his bat, but only after the ball had clipped his pad in front of the stumps) they appeared to properly be buried. With the last-wicket pair at the crease, they still needed 101.
Then Pushpakumara's bat glinted like a pirate's cutlass, he slashed and swept and cut and hacked and pulled, and England, suddenly started to look a little rattled. The tea break came at the perfect time for England, however. They regrouped over the break, and Leach straightened a ball into Suranga Lakmal's pad to raise a successful lbw appeal. Lakmal reviewed umpire S Ravi's decision (and the way he has been umpiring, why wouldn't you?), but the ball was projected to be hitting leg stump.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf