England 127 for 2 (Root 66*, Bairstow 47*) trail Sri Lanka 135 (Bess 5-30, Broad 3-20) by eight runs

In years to come, people will see the scorecard of this game - and Dom Bess' first-innings bowling figures, in particular - and presume this was the sort of Galle surface where the ball spun sharply throughout.

It was not really so. In truth, the first day of this match was defined by a remarkably soft batting performance from Sri Lanka. No doubt they are low on confidence after their 2-0 drubbing in South Africa. No doubt they missed their captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, who was forced to pull out of the match having suffered a recurrence of pain from a hand injury sustained in Johannesburg. And no doubt they are lacking in preparation time after rain ruined what little opportunity they had for training.

But despite those caveats, this was a wasteful display from Sri Lanka characterised by poor shot selection and ugly dismissals. On a blameless surface, against an attack that at times looked rusty, they succumbed to the lowest first-innings score at this ground in Test history.

It seems churlish not to celebrate a young man's Test-best figures. And Bess, having suffered a disproportionate of missed chances off his bowling during the English summer, was no doubt due some fortune. But, despite finishing with 5 for 30, he would surely admit that he has bowled better for no reward.

Perhaps, knowing that Bess came into this series under a little bit of pressure, Sri Lanka were looking to attack him. But by attempting to reverse-sweep Bess' second delivery, Kusal Perera instead simply helped him settle into the game. It would have been an ambitious choice of stroke in many contexts, but with a slip in place and Sri Lanka having lost two wickets in the opening seven overs, it looked simply irresponsible. Perera succeeded only in scuffing a catch to slip off his glove.

It was the wicket of Niroshan Dickwella which summed things up. Served the longest of long-hops, Dickwella somehow conspired to splice his cut stroke to point. It was a moment of cricket which might have been more familiar at the lower reaches of a club game.

To be fair to Sri Lanka, they didn't enjoy much luck, either. Dasun Shanaka connected nicely with a slog-sweep only to see the ball thump into the ankle of Jonny Bairstow, jumping to evade it at short leg, and balloon to the keeper. Then Lasith Embuldeniya was run out backing up after the bowler, Jack Leach, managed to get a fingertip on Wanindu Hasaranga's straight drive and the ball deflected into the stumps.

But Hasaranga - getting into a horrible position as he attempted a reverse-sweep - was bowled to complete Bess' five-for, summing up a grim display with the bat. Maybe there have been softer first-innings five-fors in recent Test history, but it isn't easy to recall them.

While Bess may gain the accolades, Stuart Broad could arguably reflect on the key performance with the ball. Coming into this match having taken just three wickets on his three previous Test tours of the country, he could have been forgiven for a sense of dread as he bowled his opening deliveries. Any hope that the unseasonably wet weather in the area might provide some assistance for the seamers was dispelled as the ball steadfastly refused to move, in the air or off the seam, and carried through at a gentle pace.

But within his first eight overs, he had doubled his career wicket tally in Sri Lanka and made deep inroads into their batting. Recognising that his usual ploy to left-handers - going round the wicket, aiming at off stump, and persuading the odd ball to leave the bat - was not going to work on this surface, he instead started to improvise.

Angling the ball into the left-handers, he was rewarded as Lahiru Thirimanne, attempting to nudge the ball off his hip, succeeded only in guiding the ball to Bairstow at leg gully, before Kusal Mendis was drawn into feeling for a cutter outside off stump which gripped and left him fractionally. It was Mendis's fourth successive duck and means he has been dismissed five times from his most recent 13 balls in Test cricket without scoring a run.

While Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews rebuilt in a stand of 56 for the fourth-wicket, Broad's return after lunch split the pair. Varying his pace relentlessly, he persuaded Mathews to attempt to cut one that was probably both too full and too close to him for the stroke. The resultant edged flashed to slip where Joe Root did well to hold on.

Although Chandimal was badly missed at cover by England's debutant, Dan Lawrence (presented his Test cap by former Essex captain, James Foster, before play), off the unfortunate Leach when he had 22, he failed to make England pay. Attempting a repeat of the stroke, he was well held by a diving Sam Curran.

Broad's figures - 3 for 20 - may look unremarkable. But on this surface, they reflected an outstanding performance by a man who has reinvented himself and found a way to keep improving just as it appeared his period at the top level was coming to an end. England's seamers are often talked about as if they're flattered by taking wickets in helpful conditions; here Broad showed again that he deserves more respect.

England did not have things all their own way in reply. Embuldeniya, drawing Dom Sibley out of position with his drift and beating him with his turn, gained an edge to slip, before Zak Crawley's unnecessary attempt to clear the infield resulted only in a catch to mid-off.

Had Root, on 20, not reviewed a leg-before decision off the same bowler, Sri Lanka might have felt they had clawed their way back into the game. But Root, albeit by a tiny margin, survived and with Bairstow added an unbroken 110 for the third-wicket to take England within eight of Sri Lanka's total. Watchful and patient, yet busy and positive, they ensured Sri Lanka could never build any pressure by running hard, rotating the strike, sweeping often and putting away the rare loose ball. It is already England's highest Test partnership in Galle and, on a surface expected to deteriorate, has provided a terrific opportunity to build an impregnable position on day two.

For an England side who lost the toss and have lost the first Test in five of their last six series, it was almost a dream opening day. For Sri Lanka, it was a nightmare.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo