Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook were each close to their best - unlike their captain Andrew Strauss - on another rain-shortened day at the Rose Bowl.
England soon lost Strauss and Jonathan Trott when they began their reply to Sri Lanka's 184 all out on day three of this third npower Test.
But Cook (55) put himself in elite company by becoming the first Englishman since Ken Barrington 48 years ago - and only the fourth ever - to post six successive Test 50s.
Pietersen (85) looked in even better form, to the delight of a sell-out crowd at his former home ground, in and after a stand of 106 as England accelerated to 195 for four in 48 of the 51 overs between the heavy showers which dominated playing hours in a match already highly likely to end in a rain-induced stalemate.
More than 12 hours of scheduled cricket have been lost to bad weather so far in a series England nonetheless lead 1-0.
After an opening rain delay of 20 minutes this morning, Stuart Broad finally got himself in the wickets column to finish off the Sri Lanka innings when number 11 Chanaka Welegedara poked a catch to short extra-cover to leave Dilhara Fernando unbeaten on a Test-best 39. England therefore had 75 minutes of batting before lunch. But Strauss lasted less than three overs until he fell to Welegedara, for the third time in 22 deliveries - including his two failures in the Lord's Test.
Strauss has previously also proved vulnerable to Mohammad Amir and Zaheer Khan, both left-arm seamers like Welegedara and the latter lying in wait for him again later this summer when India arrive for four Tests.
This time, he mustered just three runs.
He escaped first ball when Welegedara got one to nip in viciously off the seam between bat and body and over the stumps, but soon afterwards he followed some well-directed away swing and edged to slip.
Trott was more culpable for chasing width when he edged Suranga Lakmal behind, the seamer operating from round the wicket at the northern end.
England had lurched to 14 for two when the prolific if under-stated Cook was joined by Pietersen, whose entrance was greeted with substantial applause and much apparent goodwill.
Pietersen announced himself with a straight-drive for four off Lakmal, ricocheting off the stumps at the non-striker's end to long-on, to get off the mark from the third ball he faced.
If Strauss' woes against left-arm seam are becoming increasingly well-chronicled, they are in their infancy compared to Pietersen's against left-arm spin.
But when the latter got a chance to face two deliveries in Rangana Herath's solitary over before lunch, he made an instant statement of intent - up the wicket to the first of those deliveries and driving imperiously to the extra-cover boundary.
It was a resoundingly confident shot which proved a reliable indicator of what was to come as Pietersen employed the age-old virtues of straight bat and sweet timing on his way to a 56-ball half-century containing eight fours.
Cook narrowly beat him to 50, in the same over from Fernando, having hit one boundary fewer and taken 36 more deliveries.
By the stoic opener's standards, though, there were more than the usual number of memorable shots - and as so often, few if any bad ones. The century stand soon followed between two batsmen who had done well to keep their concentration after a succession of afternoon rain breaks - much to the frustration of a crowd which either began to disperse or inevitably to make their own fun.
Batman, Robin and other fancy-dress cronies resorted to solo pitch invasions which will prove costly to perpetrators tired of waiting for the weather to relent.
When it did, though, Cook and Pietersen provided more traditional and much richer entertainment.
The opener eventually departed, somewhat surprisingly, spearing a loose drive at Fernando high to gully - shortly before the Sri Lanka seamer limped off with a recurrence of his knee injury.
Still Pietersen's left-arm spin nemesis was not recalled.
England's number four seemed in no mood to squander his golden opportunity for a first hundred of the year, and first in this country since August 2008, whoever was bowling - until he fell just before the close, edging a drive at Thisara Perera.
Ian Bell was in situ, with more strokeplayers to come, but England will still have to make the most of a forecast rare dry day tomorrow to have any chance of pushing for 2-0.Reuse content