England have played 384 games since Denly last wore his country's colours in February 2010, as a precocious top-order batsman who did not make the most of his chance but can not have imagined the wait that lay in store for another.
However, some lusty hits from Ben Stokes (26), Moeen Ali (27) and Denly helped England reach 187/8. The premier fast bowler has had a fine return to the game and scalped two wickets for 30 runs.
Mendis, 20, switched his left-arm orthodox spin and right arm off-spin for three overs against England's big hitters but gave away 27 runs before he was withdrawn.
Denly's last competitive game was in 2009 and was dropped just on the eve of the 2010 T20 World Cup held in the West Indies.
The Sri Lanka president, Maithripala Sirisena, sacked the nation's prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, on Friday. Rain arrived moments later and when play resumed nearly an hour later England added 74 for four in the remaining 8.4 overs to close on 187 for eight.
"I am delighted to be back", said Denly who has had a stellar year with county side Kent.
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'There were a few nerves there, but it was more excitement.
'There are a couple of warm-up games, so hopefully I can perform there to put my name in the hat, ' he said.
Perera's six sixes gave the score an air of respectability.
Mathews was an absentee from the limited-overs leg of the tour - which the tourists won 3-1 - but was retained in the Test squad, with the three-match Test series beginning in Galle on November 6, live on Sky Sports Cricket. They have not played T20I since July 8, when they lost to India by seven wicket, and are ranked fourth. Spinner Akila Dananjaya's absence has weakened Sri Lanka's spin department but the management will be hoping that his replacement Amila Aponso, will make his chance count.
Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga, right, is bowled out by England's Joe Denly during the Twenty20 worldwide cricket match between Sri Lanka and England in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. "But we are going in the right direction".
"In the last match we had good fielding, but there is no point making excuses".