England trail Sri Lanka by 178 runs with eight first-innings wickets remaining
Sri Lanka's first-innings death wish in this series showed itself for the third successive time when they dissipated their best start in three Tests which had seen them standing at 81 for one ten minutes before lunch.
Within 75 minutes they collapsed to 139 for eight with Andrew Flintoff in the middle of everything, taking three wickets and a couple of slip catches.
The return of Sanath Jayasuriya was a flop and England were on the brink of dismissing the tourists for under 150 - and that would have been a batting crime on a decent dry pitch that is bound to help Muttiah Muralitharan more each day.
But yet again there was a recovery of sorts led by Chaminda Vaas and, although a final total of 231 looks well under par, it owed much to an unexpected innings of 33 from Muralitharan who played his full part in a partnership of 62 for the last wicket with the wacky goings-on shifting at least part of a momentum that had been all England's.
The decent crowd of 13,000 watched in disbelief as Murali played as only he can, whirling the bat like a scimitar as he ensured that no part of his body was in danger of being hit by the nasty fasties.
He played the Rohan Kanhai one-handed sweep as he fell over to perfection and when Flintoff came back to bounce him out he hit him for 11 in one over in which he cover drove for four with his front foot pointing to midwicket, followed by a flail to square leg for another boundary that almost defied geometric execution.
The crowd laughed and, as happens during such a period, the England players became visibly frustrated, especially when Vaas gave up trying to organise the strike and often took a single early in the over in order to give his partner free rein. The No 11 might look slap happy with the bat but he has a marvellous eye and often causes mayhem as he did yesterday.
The 50 partnership came up at a run a ball but when Monty Panesar was finally brought on both batsmen were happy to play him defensively, knowing that every additional run was a donation to the Murali bowling bank.
Had England made early inroads at the start of play the middle-order slump would be understandable but after Jonathan Lewis (a surprise choice ahead of Sajid Mahmood) had bowled Michael Vandort with his third ball on his debut Upul Tharanga and Kumar Sangakkara made hay while the sun shone in a way which, for the first time in the series, must have made the tourists feel at home.
They hit a string of good strokes off the four pacemen and ten minutes before lunch the morning belonged to them with every possibility of a big total well over 300. But there was always Flintoff lurking with his Bothamesque knack of making things happen.
He had a quiet match at Edgbaston and used himself fourth in the morning session but with immediate success.
He might have been lucky with his first wicket because Sangakkara did not touch the first of three successive catches claimed by Geraint Jones but umpire Darryl Hair decided otherwise. Tharanga then played an unworthy shot to Matthew Hoggard next over - both left-handers going for 34 before Mahela Jayawardene got another duck on the stroke of lunch.
That was three wickets for two runs in 11 balls and the morning belonged to England as did most of the afternoon session with Flintoff at his most hostile with a succession of good catches being taken. The captain caught Tillekeratne Dilshan and Farveez Maharoof, Kevin Pietersen caught Jayasuriya in the gully and Andrew Strauss clung on to a stunner in the slips.
In 17 overs, Sri Lanka lost seven wickets for 55 runs and seven out of the eight wickets to fall had been caught in the arc from wicketkeeper to gully, with nary a drop. The only missed chance was a difficult one to Liam Plunkett offered by Lasith Malinga with the score 144, and he hung around for another 25 minutes to start a recovery worth 92 precious runs for the last two wickets.
Left with 75 minutes batting, England started unconvincingly. Marcus Trescothick was dropped in the deep off Malinga, and Strauss' tentative form continued when he dragged one on from Vaas. His partner then ran himself out, gambling and losing to a good throw from long leg, and the last 20 minutes was interesting for the execution of the gameplan for Pietersen.
The wicketkeeper stood up to Vaas so Pietersen had to stand in his crease instead of at least a foot outside as he did in the first two Tests.
As for Murali, he bowled to a leg side packed with six fieldsmen and was treated with considerable respect. The crowd this morning should relish a session that will shape the match.
Momentum is all important and it must be with Sri Lanka who, at 139 for eight, could never have expected to end the day leading by 179 and having dismissed both England openers.