The tourists’ captain Alastair Cook confirmed significant discussions took place over whether to postpone Saturday’s second one-day international at the Premadasa Stadium.
Following Australia Test batsman Hughes’ death on Thursday from injuries suffered when he was hit on the neck in a Sheffield Shield match two days earlier, there was an evident case for putting the series here on hold.
New Zealand and Pakistan delayed day two of their Test in Sharjah, and resumed the match 24 hours later.
On Friday, it fell to Cook to speak publicly for the first time since Hughes passed away.
“It was a tragic day for cricket yesterday … incredibly sad,” he said.
“All our thoughts are with Hughesy’s family and obviously those Australian players who knew him so well.”
Asked if his own players, and Sri Lanka’s, can possibly play with the intensity appropriate for an international match in such shocking circumstances, Cook admitted perhaps not.
But he added: “I know discussions went on about whether we should be playing, and I think both sides agreed that out of respect we should carry on – try to pay our respects in the right way for Phil, and try to put on a good show.”
Hughes’ fatal injury came about when he missed a bouncer – a legitimate and near age-old bowler’s skill – but the broad consensus is of a freak incident rather than one players can somehow seek to avoid in future.
Cook knows he must try to put it out of his mind when batting, and he will not be asking his pace bowlers to water down their tactics.
“If you’re going to play a game, you’ve got to do it properly,” he said.
“It is a real reminder how dangerous it can be. In our dressing room, we’ve been talking about that over the last 48 hours.
“This doesn’t happen very often at all … I certainly wouldn’t change the way I play.
“It’s a natural thing. You cannot have those doubts at the back of your mind when you walk out to bat, because you won’t be playing very well.”
The ball which hit Hughes missed the bottom of his helmet as he swivelled in an attempted pull shot, and there have been calls for a review of available safety equipment.
Cook said: “The game of cricket will move on. But it’s a real reminder to everyone how precious life is.
“What’s happened over the last three days has certainly clarified in my mind, it is just a game.
“We are incredibly lucky to be playing for England, or Australia, Sri Lanka, any international side … and we have a massive responsibility to play it the right way.
“Yes, we play it hard – because you’re representing your country. But there’s certainly a right way of doing it.
“This is a really tragic accident. I don’t think we should change the way we play cricket – I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it.”
He acknowledges safety must be paramount, but insists helmet designs are already vastly improved.
“We’ve got to make sure we keep working as hard as we can, the manufacturers and authorities, to make cricket as safe as we can.
“This is a real reminder to everyone that we can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to keep trying to improve player safety, even though I think the improvements – even since I started playing cricket – have gone through the roof, especially helmets.”
Cook’s opposite number Angelo Mathews, who spoke of his personal shock at Hughes’ death, agrees nonetheless that cricket must continue to be played “hard and fair”.
“It was the first thing I heard when I woke up yesterday morning, and it was such a tough day,” he said.
“Phil Hughes was a very humble guy, a gentleman.
“We all play to win … and just don’t expect anything like this to happen when you bowl a bouncer.
“I hope and pray we will never hear of an incident like this again in cricket.”
Cook recalled a kindred spirit in Hughes, like him a left-handed opener on the field – and a farmer off it.
“His love of farming … with his cattle, gave us common ground. He was one of the guys I would chat to at the end of a game,” Cook said.
As an opponent, Cook is convinced Hughes should have had his best days in front of him.
“I’ll remember him as an outstanding talent,” he added.
“You don’t have a record in first-class cricket as good as he did, in all conditions, and not go on and be an outstanding Test player.
“That sums up his class, and he was only going to get better and better.
“There is absolutely no doubt about that in my mind, that he would have been a fantastic player for Australia.
“To be cut short like that is an absolute shame, just a tragedy.”
A two-minute silence will be held before Saturday’s match, and both teams will wear black armbands.
England (possible): AN Cook (capt), MM Ali, IR Bell, JE Root, EJG Morgan, JC Buttler (wkt), RS Bopara, BA Stokes, CR Woakes, JC Tredwell, ST Finn.
Sri Lanka (possible): A Mathews (capt), T Dilshan, K Perera, K Sangakkara (wkt), M Jayawardene, L Thirimanne, T Perera, J Mendis, R Herath, S Eranga, A Mendis.
Umpires: S Davis (Aus) and R Wimalasiri (Sri).
Third umpire: S Fry (Aus).
Match referee: D Boon (Aus).