Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara’s maiden Test hundred in England helped the tourists save the series finale at the Rose Bowl.
But a draw in the third and final Test gave England a 1-0 win in this three-match series after an innings and 14-run win in the first Test in Cardiff was followed by stalemate at Lord’s.
Rain, which robbed the first Test ever staged at the Rose Bowl of 155 overs on the first three days, had the final say when a downpour during the tea interval on the fifth day brought this match to a premature close.
Bad weather meant 369 overs were lost in the series as a whole, equivalent to 26-and-a-half hours’ playing time.
Sri Lanka were 334-5 in their second innings in reply to England’s first innings 377-8 declared, a lead of 141, having lost just two wickets on the last day.
One of those was Sangakkara, out shortly before tea for 119 when the left-hander’s square cut off James Anderson was caught by substitute Adam Rouse at backward point.
His exit ended a fifth-wicket stand of 141 with Thilan Samaraweera, who was left stranded on 87 not out.
Sangakkara was frustrated by Sri Lanka’s collapse to 82 all out inside 25 overs in Cardiff which effectively cost them the Test series.
“None of us were really switched on there, we could have had a 0-0 Test series,” he said. “There is a lot of regret but lessons were learned.
“There were various situations that could have played out today but we batted with our heads held high and walked away with a good result.”
England captain Andrew Strauss added: “We got ourselves in a position to go on and win the game but fair play to Sangakkara especially, the Sri Lankans blunted our attack – we didn’t make the inroads we needed to make.”
“I think we got ourselves into good positions in all three Test matches and in a way that two-hour session in Cardiff was good enough to get us one result.”
Sangakkara had managed just 65 runs in five previous innings this series but, leading Sri Lanka in the absence of the injured Tillakaratne Dilshan, he showed his class with a 25th Test century.
Sri Lanka resumed on Monday on 112-3, 81 runs behind, with Sangakkara 44 not out and nightwatchman Rangana Herath unbeaten on two, in overcast, seam bowler-friendly conditions. But Sangakkara, who averages over 56 in Tests, cover-drove fast bowler Chris Tremlett for four in the first over of the day.
Anderson nearly had Herath out for five but first slip Strauss was distracted by Graeme Swann, moving across from second slip, and the England captain dropped the fast-travelling chance. Herath was eventually lbw on the backfoot to Swann after missing a sweep for a gutsy 36.
Sri Lanka reached lunch on 226-4, with Sangakkara 89 not out and Samaraweera 26 not out. By that stage the 33-year-old Sangakkara, who resigned as Sri Lanka captain after their World Cup final defeat by India in April, had surpassed his previous Test-best in England of 66 at Trent Bridge five years ago.
Sangakkara went into the 90s with a lucky four over the slips off Anderson before a comfortable single off Broad saw him to a hundred featuring 13 fours and spanning nearly five and a half hours after he came in at 25 for one.
England had built a strong position by bowling Sri Lanka out for just 184 in the tourists’ first innings, with Tremlett taking a Test-best six for 48.
Tremlett was named man-of-the-match and England’s man-of-the-series after topping the hosts’ bowling averages with 15 wickets at 23.40 in three Tests.
England remained third in the ICC Test rankings — they would have gone joint second if they’d won — behind leaders India, their next Test opponents, and South Africa.