The tourists’ hopes of forcing a 3-0 clean sweep in Colombo appeared to be withering on the second afternoon as Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva piled on the the biggest stand of the entire series.
Together they put on 142 for the second wicket, with England skipper Joe Root dropping both men at slip and the occasional mis-hit falling frustratingly safe in scorching afternoon heat.
But Root finally found the right combination when he paired Rashid’s subtle leg-spin with the pounding intensity of Stokes - a partnership that left the batting side feeling for the turning ball at one end and cowering from a barrage of short stuff at the other.
From a secure 173-1 they were dismissed for 240, with eight wickets tumbling after tea as Rashid scooped career-best figures of 5-49, as well as a rare run-out.
Stokes was just as impressive, though, easily producing the best spell of pace bowling in the past three Tests as he took 3-30 in 10 menacing overs either side of the interval.
“It worked out perfectly, Stokesy at one end bowling nice and aggressive and me at the other end mixing it up, bowling my variations. It all happened very quickly,” said Rashid after England closed on 3-0 and an unexpected 99-run lead.
“It was a simple plan for me: to be attacking, bowl my variations, try and get the ball spinning both ways, get the batsmen playing certain shots. Stokesy had his own plan, be aggressive, run in, rough them up.
“We all know what Ben brings to the table, he’s a match-winner, a world class performer. He came out there with a certain game plan and just gave it his all. At the other end I was just trying to mix it up and I got my rewards as well.
“We always have that belief going into that session. They played exceptionally well before but we had a positive mindset and knew if we stick to our plan things would change.”
Three of Rashid’s victims were caught by Keaton Jennings at short-leg, including a stunning one-handed grab to see off Roshen Silva.
Jennings also called on reserves of anticipation and bravery to catch Danushka Gunathilaka off Jack Leach, following the batsman down the track to gather a flick that most fielders would have watched from the safety of a defensive crouch.
After two superb reflex efforts in the second Test, Jennings’ fast hands are becoming a critical part of the England’s winning formula.
“As a spinner it’s nice having him there, we’re happy!” said Rashid.
“He’s made a big difference and he’s proved he’s an exceptional short-leg fielder. He reads the game well, he’s alert, he practices hard in the morning and he gets his rewards.”
De Silva was even more effusive, crediting the man under the helmet for kick-starting his side’s demise.
“Jennings moves around all the time, stops all the singles and takes all the catches, he was the man who turned the game around,” he said.