Sam Robson was on the verge of his maiden Test century after he and Gary Ballance batted almost throughout the afternoon session on day two against Sri Lanka at Headingley.

Alastair Cook's lean run of form continued with another worrying early dismissal, but Robson (98no) and Ballance (78) then took over to provide more than a glimpse into England's future with a stand of 142.

A total of 211 for two, in reply to 257 all out, puts the hosts in apparent control at tea of this second Investec Test - a series decider, after last week's last-ditch draw at Lord's.

There were no frills, though, to the Ballance-Robson alliance in which the Australia-born opener brought an impressive functionality - but no additional flair as yet - to a wider audience, having profited with the same method for Middlesex.

Cook got no further than the fourth over of the morning, and added just three runs to his overnight 14, before an indeterminate prod forward resulted only in an edge low to slip off Dhammika Prasad.

Ballance announced himself with a cut for four off the same bowler to get off the mark, but neither he nor Robson proved to be in any rush.

Instead, they established themselves at a traditional Test match tempo - and the relative slow grind served England's purpose ideally.

Robson passed his maiden 50 before lunch, from 102 balls, and Ballance had faced 14 more when he reached the landmark in mid-afternoon with another cut for his seventh four - off Nuwan Pradeep.

If memorable highlights were thin on the ground, there were relatively few alarms either from a second-wicket pair as yet sharing just five caps between them.

Ballance was reprieved by DRS on 31, when Rangana Herath - and umpire Billy Bowden - thought he was lbw, only for simulation to depict the slow left-armer turning the ball more than the width of the stumps.

Robson might have gone lbw too on 78, to Prasad, had the bowler appealed when his yorker hit the batsman on pad before bat.

In between, on 61, Ballance offered a sharp chance off Herath straight to short-leg, where Kaushal Silva could not hold on.

The partnership therefore remained intact until Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews, who finally brought himself on for the 66th over, struck with his ninth delivery.

Ballance was beginning to threaten a second successive century, in only his third Test, when the medium-pacer had him caught-behind pushing forward.