Sri Lanka 114 for 3 (Tharanga 49) beat India 112 (Dhoni 65, Lakmal 4-13) by seven wickets
Lesser-skilled teams' best chances of competing are in conditions that skew the balance towards the bowlers - spin or seam. In 26 ODIs in 2017, most of which were played on flat surfaces, Sri Lanka managed to win just four. But in Dharamsala, Sri Lanka's seamers, led by Suranga Lakmal, used swinging and seaming conditions to rip through a tentative India batting line-up for 112, setting up a seven-wicket rout that also snapped their 12-game losing streak in ODIs.
When Lakmal finished with figures of 10-4-13-4 to leave India at 29 for 7, it didn't look like the innings would last 38.2 overs. But MS Dhoni shepherded the tail with a calculated 65 to prevent India from the ignominy of falling to the lowest ODI total. Even though India started well in the defense, their total was decidedly under-par as Sri Lanka hunted down the target with 29.2 overs to spare.
In the fresh mountain air of Dharamsala, Sri Lanka's opening bowlers, Lakmal and Angelo Mathews, repeatedly hit the perfect length: just fuller than good. On a surface with sufficient but not exaggerated lateral movement, that length becomes even harder to negate. Batsmen are indecisive with their footwork and therefore shot selection.
Shikhar Dhawan prefers to dominate bowlers from the outset, particularly with cross-batted strokes. He hung back to Mathews, who angled full deliveries away from his leaden-footed drives. Then, Mathews swerved one back into Dhawan to beat his inside edge, striking him in front of middle. Sri Lanka had umpire Simon Fry's not-out decision overturned on review to complete the perfect one-two play.
Two overs on, Lakmal hit that ideal length again but with a quicker pace. Rohit Sharma played the line but enough away seam movement kissed the outside edge. This time, Sri Lanka had umpire Anil Chaudhary's decision overturned.
Most of India's shots thereafter were borne by an intent to weather that testing period. That resulted in two runs in the first five overs and 11 in the first 10, the lowest in a match involving two Full Members in the last five years.
That also ensured Sri Lanka didn't need to alter their own approach, as they jagged and nipped the ball both ways. All of Sri Lanka's first seven wickets were a result of beating the batsmen on the inside or outside edge. Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were caught behind the wicket off outside edges. Dinesh Karthik fell over a flick and Shreyas Iyer chopped on via the inside edge.
Of late, Dhoni often consumes too many balls while starting his innings, but India's dire situation fit his template today. He charged down off his first ball, displaying an intent and a clear plan to negate the swing that no other batsman had.
One of Dhoni's biggest - and well-documented - assets is his productivity with the tail. In Kuldeep Yadav's company, he chose only the errant deliveries to score. He used his typical bottom-hand power to place the ball particularly into gaps through cover, midwicket and backward square leg. He eventually sliced a lofted drive off Thisara Perera to be last man out, not before making close to 60% of India's runs from No. 6.
With India's opening bowlers also generating appreciable seam movement both ways, it seemed like Dhoni had carried India not too far away from a fighting score. Danushka Gunathilaka, frustrated by the ball repeatedly going past his outside edge, attempted a straight heave off Jasprit Bumrah and was caught behind, the ball missing his intended area by 180 degrees. Such were the margins of error on this pitch.
In his next over, Bumrah also had Upul Tharanga caught at gully, but replays indicated he overstepped. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar got Lahiru Thirimanne to chop on three balls later, India not only hoped, but believed. They had, after all, produced three wicket-taking balls in 37 balls on a surface that was offering plenty of assistance.
Tharanga, though, quelled their belief with a flurry of sweetly-timed strokes either side of the wicket. India had to set attacking fields, leaving massive holes in the outfield. Tharanga unleashed several cover drives en route to his 49 before edging to first slip. Angelo Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella then added an unbroken 49 to carry Sri Lanka home, leaving India having to come back from a 1-0 deficit for the second consecutive three-match series.