Sanath Jayasuriya fought off a dislocated shoulder to guide Sri Lanka to a three-wicket win over India in the opening game of the IndianOil Cup in Dambulla on Saturday. He was named man of the match for his efforts.
Fuelled by valuable contributions by the lower middle order, Sri Lanka chased down a target of 206 with ten balls to spare.
India didn't have a sizable score on the board to defend, but the Indian bowlers kept the game on even keel before Jayasuriya and youngsters Dilhara Lokuhettige and Fervez Maharoof took the game away from the visitors.
Electing to bat, India fielded two new faces in Uttar Pradesh youngster Suresh Raina and Andhra's Venugopal Rao.
Without Sachin Tendulkar, who is recuperating after elbow surgery, and Sourav Ganguly, who is serving a four-match ban, India further lost out on experience when VVS Laxman pulled out due to back spasms..
"Traditionally, this track has been good for teams batting first," said Dravid, after the toss.
For Sri Lanka, paceman Dilhara Lokuhettige was awarded his first ODI cap after Chaminda Vaas pulled out of the game with a hamstring injury.
India opted for three pacers -- Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, while Harbhajan Singh was preferred over leg-spinner Anil Kumble.
The air over India's explosive opening partnership of Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was dispersed quickly as both were dismissed in successive overs.
Sehwag was bowled by Fervez Maharoof in the third over of the innings.
A strong wind at the Rangiri Dambulla International stadium helped Mahroof swing the ball back into the batsman. Sehwag, who had hit two boundaries off the first two balls the previous over, played inside the line of a ball that cut away from him and knocked the top of the off-stump. (17-1)
In the next over, debutant Dilhara Lokuhettige claimed his first ODI wicket when wicketkeeper-batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni was bowled for two while trying to drive. (22-2)
Sri Lanka's pace attack lacked in experience due to the absence of Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa, but Maharoof and Lokuhettige kept a tight line to strangle the batsmen. Both the bowlers showed the ability to swing the ball either way and the Indians, still rusty from a four-month break, were beaten consistently.
The Dambulla pitch is known to favour bowlers due to the high water table. The conditions for batting though have improved since the ground made its international debut in 2001, with runs per over jumping from 3.20 in the first year to 4.55 in 2004.
India scored 28 in first five overs, but only seven runs in the next five.
Rahul Dravid put up stoic defence at one end while Yuvraj Singh, promoted to number three, had a difficult time tackling the Lankan medium pacers.
Yuvraj hit a boundary off the second ball he faced but took 19 more to post the next run. The left-hander was out trying to pull Lokuhettige, for 12. The ball rose off the bottom edge of Yuvraj's bat straight to substitute Upul Tharanga at mid-on. (44-3)
As wickets fell consistently, India failed to make use of the field restrictions in the first 15 overs. They brought up the first fifty of the innings in 95 balls.
Dilhara Fernando, who replaced Maharoof in the 17th over, dealt another blow with the wicket of Mohammed Kaif.
Kaif, who survived a close leg before wicket call on four, was out flicking a slower ball to mid-on. (63-4).
Muttiah Muralitharan then made it a forgettable debut for Suresh Raina, who lasted only a ball. Even before the 18-year-old could settle into his new India helmet, Muralitharan had him trapped in front of the stumps with a ball that spun away. (64-5)
Venugopal Rao, the other debutant for India, masked the nerves and played the ball on merit. Rao and Dravid were effective without being spectacular. They pulled Indian through the middle-overs, scoring 58 runs off 80 balls.
India pedalled around to 100 in the 29th over.
Dravid, named captain of the side for a full series for the first time, scored his fifty from 91 balls with the help of five boundaries.
Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu kept juggling his bowlers around, employing Tillakaratne Dilshan and Russell Arnold to add variety to the spin attack. With the non-regular bowlers in sight, Dravid moved up a gear and tried to innovate.
Atapattu's move paid off as his Indian counterpart was bowled round the legs playing the paddle sweep to Upul Chandana. (122-6).
At the end of the 96-ball effort, Dravid's innings scripted an unusual wagon wheel. The Karnataka batsman, known for his copybook style, scored only eight of his 54 runs in the `V' while 27 runs came behind the wicket.
After his dismissal, the scoring rate dropped even though Pathan made a handy 21.
Pathan and Rao added 37 runs in 11 overs before Muralitharan picked his second wicket. The off-spinner frustrated Pathan, forcing him to lob the ball to mid-wicket. (159-7).
Muralitharan struck back off the very next ball with one that spun away from the right-hander. He induced an edge from the well-settled Rao, who tried to cut the ball. (159-8)
It was time for the sloggers and India had the men in Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. The latter foiled Muralitharan's hat-trick attempt by dramatically changing his stance for the reverse sweep.
Harbhajan was the first to venture out with a six over mid-wicket. Another attempt to hit into the stands came unstuck as the ball fell short, but the fielder in the deep, Arnold, grassed the chance.
Harbhajan and Zaheer, who hit three boundaries while scoring 20 off 12 balls, slammed 20 runs in the last two overs to make sure that India crossed the 200-run mark.
Muralitharan, with three for 33, was the most successful bowler for the hosts, but it was the pacemen who set the platform for the off-spinner. Having come out unscarred in the first spell -- Maharoof (21 runs in eight overs) and Lokuhettige (26 runs in eight overs) -- they made sure that India had to tread carefully through the entire 50 overs.
Fernando, the most experienced bowler, went for more than a run-a-ball.
The outfield is expected get slow because of the dew in the evening and the bowlers would also find it difficult to grip the ball.
Sri Lanka innings
Sri Lanka began the chase with their most successful ODI opener -- Jayasuriya out with a shoulder dislocation. The 36-year-old was injured while fielding.
India opted for a seam attack consisting of three left-arm bowlers Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. The only right-handed paceman in the squad, Laxmipathy Balaji, was left out.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Kumara Sangakkara, fresh from a century against the West Indies in the Kandy Test, tried to emulate Jayasuriya's opening fury. He took the attack to Zaheer Khan, slamming 12 runs, including two pulls for four, in the second over.
But the innings was cut short by some incisive bowling from Irfan Pathan. The Indian paceman trapped Sangakkara lbw with a delivery that came in. The previous two balls had pitched on length and swung away from the left-hander. (19-1)
After a rough series against Pakistan, Pathan reclaimed his ability to swing the ball and the evening air only aided his skill.
Marvan Atapattu, though slow to begin with, made amends later. Hitting five boundaries in the arc between fine leg and mid-on, the Sri Lanka captain made 29 from 38 balls.
He was run out trying to steal a single from Suresh Raina and square leg.
Mahela Jayawardene turned the ball to leg and called Atapattu for a run, but the batsman could not beat Raina's direct hit. (55-2).
Zaheer stuck to his strengths, angling the ball away from the right-handed batsmen regularly. Though the bowler was taken for a few in his first few overs he kept a consistent line on the middle-and-off stump.
His persistence was rewarded with the wicket of Jayawardene in his eighth over. The ball pitched up and cut in slightly to dislodge the bails and end a sketchy innings. (60-3).
Sri Lanka regained some ground with a 44-run partnership between Russell Arnold and Tillekaratne Dilshan. Though the hosts were losing wickets at regular intervals they kept up with the required run rate.
Arnold, though not in the best of form, is known for his penchant to perform under pressure.
With Rahul Dravid taking Pathan and Zaheer out of the attack after a spell of seven and eight overs respectively, the pressure eased off considerably. Harbhajan and Ashish Nehra didn't bowl too many loose balls, but the Sri Lankan batsmen were starting to work them around for singles.
Dilshan was dropped by Virender Sehwag at first slip off Harbhajan before he had opened his account. But the off-spinner had his man later.
Dilshan played across the line to a delivery that pitched on the off-stump and spun back in. (104-4)
Harbhajan then broke the middle-order resistance with the wicket of Arnold for 22. (112-5)
The batsman moved back to a shorter delivery. Harbhajan, thinking that the ball had hit Arnold in front of the wicket, launched into an appeal before realizing that the ball had rolled back onto the stumps. (112-5).
By the 30th over, Dravid had exhausted most of the overs of his four main bowlers, intent of finishing the job at hand quickly. On the flip side, this also put extra responsibility on the fifth bowler.
Lokuhettegi exposed India's dilemma immediately, hitting the third ball he faced in international cricket for a six over square leg off Sehwag. Even with Jayasuriya at the other end, the debutant stole the spotlight for a short while and brought down Sri Lanka's required run rate to below four for the first time in the innings.
He struck two fours off Harbhajan and another off Sehwag before perishing for 21 in 20 balls. He fell to the second ball he faced from Pathan.
The left-arm bowler, coming on for his second spell in the 35th over, had Lokuhettige chopping the ball on to his off-stump. (140-6).
Having gained the momentum, Jayasuriya and Upul Chandana looked like taking away the game from India. The runs were coming without any risks. With Pathan and Harbhajan having bowled out it was an uphill task for India.
Zaheer, coming in at the end of Pathan's spell, got the breakthrough when he had Chandana caught behind. (172-7)
But Jayasuriya still remained the deciding factor. The experienced batsman found an able partner in Maharoof.
Jayasuriya guided the youngster who exuded confidence, defended well and nailed India's coffin with two boundaries off Sehwag in the 46th over. That tilted the balance completely in favour of the hosts with 11 needed from 27 balls.
India didn't have the bowling in the last ten overs to overcome Sri Lanka's grit. Three of their frontline bowlers had completed their overs and it was left to Sehwag and Nehra a rapidly dwindling target.
Jayasuriya fell short of a well-deserved half-century but did enough to give the home side a winning start in the series.
He pulled Raina for a four to finish the match in the penultimate over.
It was Sri Lanka's overall depth - in batting and bowling -- that defeated India on the day.