Tymal Mills praised the England Lions bowling group for a disciplined performance that was eventually rewarded with a flurry of Sri Lankan wickets.
Sri Lanka A were dismissed for 339, having been 254 for two at one stage, on a baking hot day in Colombo.
Mills took three wickets, as did Graham Onions, while Simon Kerrigan accounted for four of the hosts’ batsmen.
But the former was quick to pay tribute to all of the bowlers, who toiled away on a lifeless pitch yet built the all-important pressure that would eventually bear fruit.
Mills told ecb.co.uk: “It was a really good day for the lads. It was tough work this morning; we banged away for no real rewards as such, but we stuck to our guns and we made the breakthroughs in the afternoon.
“It was a rewarding day, all the bowlers stuck in and battled away all day.
“These last two days have been the hottest since we’ve been in Sri Lanka. It hit us hard.
“It took all of the bowlers to be switched on and nobody had a bad day today. We could rotate the bowlers well.
"The pitch was pretty flat so we set straight fields and got men in front of the bat, stuck to our guns, plugged away and got our rewards towards the end of the day.”
England reached 39 for one by the close of play, with Sam Robson and Scott Borthwick both remaining undefeated following Alex Lees’ dismissal, to give them a lead of 161.
Sri Lanka A must win to ensure a drawn series, but Mills hopes to end their hopes on the final day
“Our main focus going into the game was to see off the game and the series. We came in with a 1-0 lead so the main thing is to come away with a series win,” he said.
“We’re still batting now, we got off to gaood start this evening with Sam Robson and Scott Borthwick. We’ll look to kill the game off and win the series tomorrow.”
The game is the final one of the Lions’ tour and Mills believes the experience has been worthwhile.
He added: “It’s been a good tour for me. I was really pleased to get some wickets today. I thought I bowled quite nicely in Pallekele without necessarily getting the rewards so it was nice for me.
“I’ve done some good work in between. I missed out on the second Test, but prepared in that time for this Test.
"I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s my second time out here and it’s been a good learning experience for me and I’m really looking forward to getting back with Essex."