Spinner Jack Leach bowled England to the brink of victory in the first test against Sri Lanka in Galle on Sunday, but is still taking things one day at a time after a horror 15 months with illness and misfortune that threatened his test career.

Leach took 5-122 and was England’s most dangerous bowler as he helped dismiss Sri Lanka for 359 in their second innings to set a modest victory target of 74 for the touring side.

"I expect quite a lot of myself," the 29-year-old told reporters. "Today was nice to get the five wickets, but at times I didn’t bowl as well as I would have liked in this game. Things got better as the match went on which is a good sign.

"It is a slow wicket, so I felt my pace needed to be a bit quicker. I wanted to be faster and more direct at the areas I want to bowl."

England were teetering at 14 for three in their chase, but made it to 38 at stumps on day four with seven wickets still remaining.

"It was always going to be a tricky period with the new ball against the Sri Lanka spinners and we have consolidated well. We feel we can come back and get the winning runs tomorrow," Leach said.

Leach will always be remembered for his role with the bat as a number 11 partner of Ben Stokes in the near miraculous test victory over Australia at Headingley in 2019, but has endured a series of set-backs since.

He suffered with sepsis on a tour of New Zealand and had to leave England’s winter tour of South Africa because of illness.

Just as he was gearing up for a test return in Sri Lanka last March, the series was postponed due to COVID-19, to which he is more susceptible than most having been diagnosed with Crohn's disease as a teenager.

"If I’m healthy and fit and able to play, then that is a great thing and I don’t take it for granted. I’m just taking it a day at a time and a game at a time," Leach said.

"You never know what is around the corner, so I’m just trying to enjoy each day and see what happens."

(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond) ((nick.said@thomsonreuters.com;))