Roshen Silva was the top scorer for Sri Lanka with a gritty 85, while there were vital contributions from Dimuth Karunaratne. England were in trouble against spinners Dilruwan Perera who took four wickets, Malinda Pushpakumara (three) and Akila Dananjaya (two) when Buttler came in to counter-attack with five boundaries and a crucial 45-run stand with Adil Rashid who made 31.
England captain Joe Root won the toss and unsurprisingly elected to bat on a track offering significant turn for a day one surface as the tourists, 1-0 up in the three-match series, sought to build on their victory in Galle.
Dananjaya, who is playing despite his bowling action being reported by the International Cricket Council in Galle last week, got the final wicket before lunch, of Rory Burns for 43.
"Rooty (captain Joe Root) has been massive in the dressing room saying "don't worry about making mistakes" and we're just trying to go out with a positive mindset".
'We were a bit disappointed that they got ahead because we felt at one point we could've had that lead.
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Where the umpires took issue with the batsmen, however, was that Roshen did not ground his bat at the non-strikers' end. "Spinners are going to have a huge role and we've got three great spinners all bowling very nicely". Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva (59) added 96 runs for the third wicket when De Silva pushed one to the covers and took on England's best fielder.
After Buttler swatted a poor reverse sweep off Pushpakumara (3-89) and Moeen Ali (10) and Leach (7) fell, Curran provided plenty of sting in the tail.
"We've got a nice score on the board and it was a great positive for Leachy to bowl a attractive ball to get rid of their opener".
With Karunaratne easing to his half-century and De Silva quickly catching up, it needed something outlandish to break their rhythm and Stokes obliged.
Sri Lankan Dhananjaya de Silva plays a shot as England's wicketkeeper Ben Foakes watches during the second day of the second test cricket match between Sri Lanka and England in Pallekele, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.