The tourists were quietly confident that their first-innings total of 285 was a strong foundation on a dry and turning track, but were faced with a 46-run deficit after the hosts dug in for 103 overs in the second Test at Pallekele Stadium.
England eventually finished Sri Lanka off for 336, Roshen Silva was the last man out for 85 with the knock of the match so far and one which helped squeeze 125 runs from the last three partnerships.
Leach and Adil Rashid shared six wickets, Moeen Ali added two and even part-time spinner Joe Root got in on the act, but there was no avoiding the conclusion that England’s spin unit let Sri Lanka off the leash.
Despite the ball jagging off the pitch, precision and pressure went missing too often and Root was forced into stationing boundary riders rather than close catchers more frequently than he would like.
“We had a chat and we’re a little bit disappointed that they’ve got a lead,” conceded Leach. “But we’re feeling good about bowling last on that wicket.
“On these wickets you have to be extra patient, always asking questions of the batter. I feel I could have done that a little better and that’s something I have to take away and learn from.”
Leach even suggested the pitch was offering slightly too much assistance, zipping comfortably past the bat rather than finding a nick. That will be a lesson banked for the business end of this finely-poised clash.
“I liked seeing it spin but sometimes you bowl a lot of balls that miss the outside edge. Those balls look great but they’re not creating a chance,” he said.
“At times that craft is ‘how can I take spin off’, maybe get one to slide or just grip a little bit.”
Meanwhile, England captain Joe Root was given an official reprimand and one demerit point for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct during the second day’s play.
Root appeared to show dissent at umpire Marais Erasmus’s decision to turn down an appeal for the dismissal of Dilruwan Perera off Moeen Ali by shaking his head and kicking the turf.