Virender Sehwag failed, as did India's batting, and Sri Lanka edged past
Rahul Dravid, the bedrock of dependability on which this Indian team is built, pulled out all the stops in his first match as captain in this new season, scoring a fighting half-century and then pressing hard on the field with all attacking instincts - but he still ended up on the losing side. India scored only 205, and it was simply not enough to deny Sri Lanka victory, by three wickets, playing at home at the Rangiri International Stadium in Dambulla.
Sri Lanka's batsmen made heavy weather of the run chase, losing wickets at regular intervals against some disciplined Indian bowling. Dravid realised early on that he would not win this match by restricting the Sri Lankans, and gave his front-line bowlers - Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan - long first spells, and it paid dividends. Pathan was particularly sharp, pitching the ball just outside the off and swinging it in, and struck first, removing Kumar Sangakkara, opening the batting in place of the injured Sanath Jayasuriya, with a curling delivery that rapped the pads in front of the stumps (19 for 1).
Two quick wickets - Marvan Atapattu (29) brilliantly run out by Suresh Raina and Mahela Jayawardene bowled by Zaheer - put the skids on Sri Lanka at 60 for 3. This brought Russel Arnold and Tillakaratne Dilshan together, and though they fumbled, groped, played and missed, a stand of 44 runs pushed the score past the 100-mark. Dilshan showed plenty of promise, playing two rasping cover-drives, but threw it away just when the game was slipping out of India's hands. He played a big sweep to Harbhajan Singh, who had been operating with a slip in place and plenty of fielders in the circle, and was lbw (104 for 4). As is so often the case, one wicket was quickly followed by another, when Arnold played all over a straight, flat one and lost his off stump (112 for 5).
India's belief that they were well and truly back in the game was blunted somewhat by Jayasuriya, whose dislocated shoulder had been popped back in place and heavily padded, and Dilhara Lokuhettige, who batted with gay abandon. He tonked the third ball he faced in international cricket - from Sehwag - into the stands over long-on, and followed that up with a bludgeoned straight drive that gave mid-off no chance. A partnership of 28 in quick time forced Dravid to turn to Pathan, and again the move paid off. Lokuhettige, who had made 21 from just 20 balls, dragged one back onto his stumps (140 for 6).
Jayasuriya, famous for pulverising attacks at the top of the order, dug deep into his rich pool of experience, kept his head amid some frenetic batting from the lower order, and steered Sri Lanka home with an ice-cool 43 not out. Farveez Maharoof played his part admirably, scoring an unbeaten 23 at No. 9.
But it was in the first 50 overs, when they batted after winning the toss, that India lost the game. Even at Dambulla, 205 is a score you will struggle to defend. India began badly, losing Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Dhoni in quick time, both bowled playing ambitious shots against the tight bowling of Maharoof and Lokuhettige. Soon after there was more trouble as Yuvraj Singh's tortured stay at the crease ended when a mis-hit pull shot bobbed to mid-on (44 for 3).
India were in deep trouble before Muttiah Muralitharan had even gotten his hands on the ball, and Mohammad Kaif remedied that by presenting him with a catch at mid-on off Dilhara Fernando (63 for 4). Raina was set up and shot down by Muralitharan, who crowded the batsman with fielders and then sent down a perfect doosra, fast and flat, trapping him in front for a first-ball duck (64 for 5).
All along Dravid was his reliable self, watching the ball carefully, mixing abundant caution with watchful opportunism, picking up runs only when the risk of being dismissed was minimal. He compiled 54, and was well on the way to saving India's blushes when a gently floated legbreak from Chandana slipped past his pads and bowled him round the legs (122 for 6).
Once Dravid was accounted for, only a fighting innings of 38 from Venugopala Rao, and some lusty tail-end hitting, managed to push the Indian total to 205. That, as later events would show, was too few to play with.
Virender Sehwag b Maharoof 14 (17 for 1)
Played down the wrong line to one that straightened
Mahendra Singh Dhoni b Lokuhettige 2 (22 for 2)
Played all over a full delivery angling in
Yuvraj Singh c Tharanga b Lokuhettige 12 (44 for 3)
Mis-hit a pull off the front foot to mid-on
Mohammad Kaif c Muralitharan b Fernando 8 (63 for 4)
Patted a ball straight to mid-on
Suresh Raina lbw b Muralitharan 0 (64 for 5)
Trapped in front by a perfectly pitched doosra
Rahul Dravid b Chandana 54 (122 for 6)
Bowled round the legs by a floating legbreak
Irfan Pathan c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 21 (159 for 7)
Swung to the fielder in the deep on the leg side
Venugopala Rao c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 38 (159 for 8)
Smart catch by the keeper to a thick edge attempting to cut
Zaheer Khan run out (Sangakkara) 20 (202 for 9)
Caught napping attempting a single by an alert keeper
Kumar Sangakkara lbw b Pathan 14 (19 for 1)
Trapped in front by a curling indipper
Marvan Atapattu run out (Raina) 29 (55 for 2)
Athletic fielding and direct hit from square-leg
Mahela Jayawardene b Zaheer 15 (60 for 3)
Bowled through the gate by an inswinger
Tillakaratne Dilshan lbw b Harbhajan 17 (104 for 4)
Swept and missed
Russel Arnold b Harbhajan 22 (112 for 5)
Missed a fast, straight one
Dilhara Lokuhettige b Pathan 21 (140 for 6)
Dragged a wide one onto his stumps.
Upul Chandana c Dhoni b Zaheer 11 (172 for 7)
Ambitious swat at a ball outside off resulted in an outside edge.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.