Despite a late rally from Graeme Swann, who took four wickets to rip through the top-order, Sri Lanka finished the day 209 runs ahead on 84-5.
England’s batting demons against spin had earlier returned once again, with orthodox left-arm spinner Rangana Herath taking 6-74, with only Warwickshire batsman Bell making any impression, scoring 52.
“The score doesn’t lie, to get bowled out again for under 200 isn’t great, but as a unit we’re working very hard,” Bell said.
“It’s a real shame and it’s not through lack of effort but it’s disappointing not to back up our bowlers.
“We definitely let them down, no doubt. Our bowlers have been outstanding again for the fourth Test this winter.”
Bell was part of a batting line-up that consistently failed against spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman during the 3-0 whitewash by Pakistan in the UAE.
“We’re all trying to get better at playing spin. We all know we have to get better at playing in the sub-continent,” the middle-order batsman added.
“It’s a long-term goal and it isn’t going to just happen overnight.”
Only Bell and Alastair Cook can claim to have been dismissed by good deliveries, with many of England’s front-line batsmen guilty of poor shot selection.
The tourists’ tail fought to give the score some credibility but James Anderson, who yesterday took 5-72 in Sri Lanka’s innings, was visibly irked after Monty Panesar was out to conclude the innings.
Yet Swann led a final session fight-back, dragging his team back into contention by taking 4-28, with Stuart Broad getting the wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan.
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