Ireland are getting the hang of this Test match lark. It is only their sixth contest but this was one of those rare occasions when they can say they won the day.

Winning the toss in Galle is always a good start – and undoubtedly helped - but as Andrew Balbirnie said afterwards, we still had to go out and produce the goods and "it’s only a good day if we have a really good one tomorrow”.

But a total of 319 for four – already eight more than they scored in both innings of last week’s first Test - which included best scores for the captain and Paul Stirling, and a record partnership between Ireland’s two most experienced players, have ensured that Ireland are in pole position to have a serious impact on the match.

The most alarming sight was Stirling, in his first game in the heat and humidity of Sri Lanka, cramping up so bad in his left leg that he had to be helped off the field after just over two and a half hours in the middle.

It could yet turn into a huge positive because Balbirnie confirmed that his vice-captain will be good to go again tomorrow and with 74 runs to his name when he retired hurt, he has the chance to go even bigger on his return.

Sri Lanka’s first task in the morning will be to try and break the fifth wicket stand – already an Ireland record – between Lorcan Tucker and Curtis Campher. They have added 87 with barely a scare and Tucker is only 22 runs away from his second Test match century and Campher has looked as solid as anyone, having facing 64 balls for his 27.

The biggest disappointment was Balbirnie’s dismissal for 95, to a sweep shot against off spinner Ramesh Mendis which he top edged to slip, but by the close of play the skipper was not too annoyed.

“It’s a shot I played a fair bit as the day went on, and for whatever ever reason I didn’t get it away,” he said. “If we had lost a couple more wickets tonight I would have felt really sour with myself but the way Curtis came in and with Lorcan the way they countered the new ball it has made it our day.”

Even though Campher played out a maiden to the last over of the day, Ireland took 55 runs off the second new ball with Tucker doubling his boundary count to 10 as he dominated the strike in those final 10 overs.

Ireland made the expected three changes to the side that lost the first Test here last week with a debut for Lisburn slow left armer Matthew Humpheys in place of George Dockrell, while Stirling and Graham Hume came in for Murray Commins and Mark Adair.

But it wasn’t Stirling who walked out with James McCollum just before 10am. PJ Moor was promoted to open – to protect Ireland’s star batsman from the new ball – but the former Zimbabwe batsman failed to survive the fourth over, leg before to Asitha Fernando for just five.

James McCollum followed soon after, caught behind off slow left armer Prabath Jayasuriya’s third ball and before lunch Harry Tector failed to clear long-on and was out for just 18.

Balbirnie though had started like a train and before Tector’s dismissal had already scored his third Test half-century from just 43 balls with 10 fours, with the cover drive his most potent shot. His next 45 runs took 120 balls but that was mainly because of Stirling.

Replacing Tector, the vice-captain had a look at two balls and then lofted Jayasuriya straight back over his head for his first six in a Test match. By the time he brought up his maiden 50 – his previous best score was 36 – he had added two more maximums and four other boundaries.

The fourth wicket partnership was 110 at tea but by then Stirling was already struggling and the 20-minute interval obviously didn’t help. After facing just five more balls, he collapsed to ground on his back in agony and after an 11-minute stoppage he had to leave the field. It ended the fourth wicket stand at 115, one more than the previous best between Kevin O'Brien and Stuart Thompson against Pakistan at Malahide.

“It was quite scary, I’ve never seen anyone cramp that bad,” said Balbirnie. “I tried to help him but he was roaring at me so I left it to the physio. But it’s great to have him back in the team. His intent from ball one when he took it to the Sri Lanka bowlers made my job easier. He should be good to go tomorrow.”

The pitch will undoubtedly take more turn on Tuesday but if Ireland can capitalise on their strong position it will be their bowlers who will get the chance to trouble the Sri Lanka batters who should not find it as easy as last week. It promises to be a fascinating day.