Their cause was helped when bad light lopped 24 overs off the evening and the forecast tomorrow suggests more assistance from the elements can't be ruled out. But for large parts of today it was the Sri Lankans who aided themselves. Jayawardene and Farveez Maharoof negotiated a full morning session and Tillakaratne Dilshan, following a double burst from Sajid Mahmood, ensured the resistance remained.
Jayawardene is enjoying a fine match and his outward emotion on reaching the hundred showed what it meant to him. Four overthrows brought up his century off 191 balls but it didn't matter how he got there as he pumped his fists, signalling to the dressing room, and certainly hadn't given up hope of pulling the match out of the fire.
England were left to rue dropping him on 58 - Andrew Strauss spilling his second regulation chance of the match - and when Flintoff finally struck it wasn't the runs that were of concern, but the time. With the wicket - fortuitous as the ball only touched the jumper - Flintoff exploded into his 'star' celebration, which became such a feature last summer for the first time this season. He clearly sensed the importance of the strike after a tough day.
Sri Lanka's first innings lasted 55.3 overs; Jayawardene and Maharoof batted 40 between them. As the stand developed England were beginning to wonder where a wicket was going to come from despite passing the bat on countless occasions. Maharoof - dropped on 30 when Paul Collingwood missed a chance high to his right at third slip - swung a six into the Grandstand to reach his fifty. However after threading two boundaries through the covers off Mahmood he slapped another attempt to Kevin Pietersen at cover.
Samaraweera didn't find life quite as easy and, though he avoided a pair, couldn't last long when he flashed at a delivery that bounced from Mahmood. The well-worn phrase of 'one brings two' had come true for England, in the nick of time, and suddenly there was a spring in the step of the bowlers and fielders.
However, Jayawardene remained and his second ton at Lord's, the 14th of his career, arrived with a scurried single to mid-on, which turned into five when the shy missed the stumps. He was confident to take on the short ball and when anything was overpitched latched on. Dilshan formed another useful partnership - in terms of runs and time - of 68, overcoming the nerves of the first innings, and whatever the outcome of the match the Sri Lankans will take a huge amount of confidence to Edgbaston for the second Test.
England's plan had been based around the new ball, due 16 overs into the morning session; it swung and seamed, but the chances came and went. Strauss's miss came off Hoggard, who had repeatedly passed the bat in another metronomic spell, and the frustration was clear.
But the bowling remained menacing throughout the day as Mahmood's impressive debut continued and Liam Plunkett produced his best spell of the match. However, the young pacemen were shown that Test cricket is often a long, hard fight. Both teams will be glancing towards the sky when the final day dawns.
Jehan Mubarak b Hoggard 6 (10 for 1)
Ball swung back between bat and pad
Upul Tharanga c Jones b Panesar 52 (119 for 2)
Played for the turn, went straight on, sharp low catch
Kumar Sangakkara c Jones b Panesar 65 (178 for 3)
Pushed forward, thin edge
Farveez Maharoof c Pietersen b Hoggard 59 (291 for 4)
Firm drive to cover
Thilan Samaraweera c Jones b Mahmood 6 (303 for 5)
Short of length, top edged a flashing cut
Mahela Jayawardene c Jones b Flintoff 119 (371 for 6)
Speared down legside, brushed jumper not glove
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo