|England have chased down more than 300 on just three occasions before [GETTY]
England recovered from two crucial blows to stay afloat in their tough run chase to win the first cricket Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on Wednesday.
The tourists, set a history-defying target of 340, reached 111 for two by stumps on the third day on a dry pitch that has made batting progressively difficult.
The world number one Test side lost openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook cheaply, before Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen repaired the damage by adding 63 for the unbroken third wicket.
Trott was unbeaten on 40 and Pietersen was on 29, with England still needing 229 runs with eight wickets in hand to win the Test and take the lead in the two-match series.
England, who will slip to number two behind South Africa if they lose the series, have never chased down such a big fourth-innings target before in their Test history.
Sri Lanka first innings: 318
England first innings: 193
Sri Lanka second innings (o'night 84-5):
L Thirimanne b Swann 6
T Dilshan b Broad 0
K Sangakkara c Bell b Swann 14
M Jayawardene c Anderson b Swann 5
T Samaraweera st Prior b Swann 36
D Chandimal c Pietersen b Panesar 31
S Randiv lbw b Swann 18
P Jayawardene not out 61
R Herath b Swann 7
C Welegedara c Strauss b Panesar 13
S Lakmal run out 13
Total (all out, 84.3 overs) 214
Fall of wickets: 1-4 (Dilshan), 2-8 (Thirimanne), 3-14 (M. Jayawardene),
4-41 (Sangakkara), 5-72 (Samaraweera), 6-114 (Chandimal), 7-115 (Randiv), 8-127 (Herath), 9-167 (Welegedara), 10-214 (Lakmal).
England second innings (Target: 340)
A Strauss c Dilshan b Herath 27
A Cook c P. Jayawardene b Herath 14
J Trott not out 40
K Pietersen not out 29
Total (for two wickets, 40 overs) 111
Fall of wickets: 1-31 (Cook), 2-48 (Strauss).
Bowling: Welegedara 5-2-16-0, Lakmal 3-1-9-0, Herath 15-3-52-2, Dilshan
9-1-14-0, Randiv 8-1-19-0.
Their highest successful chase is 332-7 against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground way back in 1928. In Asia, it is 209-1 against Bangladesh in Dhaka in March, 2010.
England's task has been made tougher since 253 is the highest fourth-innings total made at the Galle International Stadium.
Cook, who scored 14, was given out caught at the wicket off Rangana Herath through the Decision Review System after on-field umpire Rod Tucker had negated the appeal.
Herath, whose left-arm spin fetched him six wickets in the first innings, dismissed Strauss for 27 when the England captain failed to keep an on-drive down and was caught at short mid-wicket.
Pietersen was lucky to be still there at stumps after being dropped by Kumar Sangakkara at backward short-leg off Suraj Randiv when he was on 12.
Earlier, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 214 in their second innings in the post-lunch session with England off-spinner Graeme Swann finishing with six for 82.
The hosts had been reduced to 127-8 just before lunch, a lead of 252 runs, when wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene stepped in to hit an unbeaten 61 in the company of tailenders.
Jayawardene, who was caught off a Stuart Broad no-ball when on 29, put on 40 for the ninth wicket with Chanaka Welegedara (13) and 47 for the 10th with Suranga Lakmal (13).
Swann bagged two of the three wickets that fell in the morning session after Sri Lanka resumed at Tuesday's score of 84-5.
The overnight pair of Dinesh Chandimal and Suraj Randiv took their sixth-wicket partnership to 42, before both batsmen fell in the space of one run.
Chandimal, who made 31, gifted his wicket for the second time in the match when he attempted a big shot off Monty Panesar and only managed to sky a catch to Kevin Pietersen at mid-off.
Randiv was declared leg-before by TV official Bruce Oxenford after he challenged on-field umpire Asad Rauf's decision, giving Swann his fifth wicket in the innings.
Herath became Swann's sixth victim when he was bowled trying to sweep the off-spinner.