It began with a bang but fizzled out before the actual end for Sri Lanka. A defeat by 38 runs looks massive in the 120-ball format but there were moments when the hosts had India nervous. The target Sri Lanka were chasing was par or at least it looked par until the effect of the big boundaries, rarely seen in modern-day white-ball cricket, played its part.
Sri Lanka started the 165 run chase with purpose as wickets with the new ball continued to elude India’s pacers. Having taken giant strides in the ODIs, Charith Asalanka – on his T20I debut - was the best player on the night for the hosts. The hope was alive when they needed 61 in the last six overs with as many wickets in hand. It all blew apart at a canter when Asalanka fell in the 16th over. Sri Lanka lost their last six wickets in the space of 21 balls, four of them hold out in the deep. Wicket-less upfront, Bhuvneshwar finished with 4/22 while Deepak Chahar returned with 2/24 that included the wicket of Asalanka.
There was another debutant under the spotlight when the evening began. Throughout the ODIs, with a flurry of boundaries, all of them timed and none of them slogged, Prithvi Shaw won the battle of the nerves in the first over hands down. On his T20I debut, a really full first ball from the impressive Dushmantha Chameera, moving way late, ended Shaw’s knock before people glued to their screens could settle down. The bat face was straight and all, but there was something on offer that was not on the cards in the ODIs: swing in the air. The first three overs had India scoring at a run-a-ball.
Then Sri Lanka switched to spin. Shikhar Dhawan swept Akila Dananjaya for two boundaries in the fourth over. Sanju Samson danced down to hit him into the stands before creaming him wide of mid-off in a 16-run sixth over. With India at 51/1 after the restrictions, Sri Lanka lost the early advantage.
Back in the team after missing out on the third ODI, Wanindu Hasaranga was Sri Lanka’s hope again. His wrong one - delivered with a lot of the ball visible unlike the conventional googly where the batsmen can see the back of hand - are harder to pick. The first ball of his spell was exactly that and Samson had no clue. The same did not hold true for Suryakumar Yadav.
Enhancing his reputation with each outing, Surya began with the characteristic nonchalance. In T20s since 2020, no other Indian batsman with 150+ balls against spin in the overs 7-15 has a better strike rate than Surya’s 144.6. There were whips and cuts against Hasaranga and immediately he was out of the attack, left to deal with the lesser mortals later. Not that it mattered to Surya who scooped, drove and even swept the pacers with ease.
Dhawan dealt with Dananjaya, slog sweeping him over the leg side fence and hitting him down the ground. The destroyer-in-chief of the last game ended up being the only bowler to have a double-digit economy in the first T20I.
Hasaranga came back and pulled his lengths to not allow Surya to play the sweeps and whips he loves. Surya managed to get underneath one in Hasaranga's last over to launch it down the ground and reach fifty off 33 balls. The next ball was slightly shorter and into his body. He repeated the same shot but could only stand at the crease, looking down, questioning his choice of shot before walking off.
It would be a tough competition to judge who between Hardik Pandya and Ashen Bandara had a worse night. With seven wickets in hand at that point, India could score only 43 in the last five. These were largely due to Ishan Kishan getting a few in the slot while Hardik failed to get any rhythm in a knock of a 12-ball 10.
Cricket, like every sport, is a contest of fine margins. The first ball of Sri Lankan innings – by Bhuvneshwar – was similar to the one Shaw faced. Though slightly shorter, it moved away and Avishka Fernando had no clue what to do with it. Lucky for him that the outside edge went over the slips. In the second over, Minod Bhanuka had his catch out down at cover. The culprit: Hardik Pandya. The elder Pandya came to his rescue having Bhanuka caught at the same spot but to a different fielder in the next over.
With 44 for one after five overs, Dhawan turned to another debutant. Having missed two chances to make his T20I debut, Varun Chakravarthy finally got an opportunity to prove his mettle. Only two runs came off his first over.
After Rahul Chahar’s bag of tricks in the third ODI and with Varun in the reckoning, Yuzvendra Chahal had a lot to play for. The first ball he bowled pitched on the leg-stump, threw out the dry dust from the pitch, turned and knocked Dhananjaya de Silva’s bails off. A total of six runs in overs sixth and seventh got Fernando's nerves. He pulled a ball not short enough from Bhuvneshwar to the fielder at deep square-leg on the first ball of the next over.
Just when all hope seemed lost, Asalanka began the rescue act. He hit the first ball of Hardik’s spell – in the 10th over – for a six. He faced the first ball of overs nine, 10th, 11th and 14th. Out of those, he hit two for sixes and one for four. However, with an innings of 9 from 19 balls, Bandara not only kept Asalanka away from the strike but allowed the asking rate to reach double figures.
In an ironic turn of events, it was Hardik who relieved Bandara of his misery. Asalanka kept Sri Lanka in the hunt by targeting India’s mystery weapon. He scored 19 runs off seven balls from Varun who still ended with figures of 1/28. After Asalanka’s wicket though, the fire in the hosts fizzled out in a hurry. India went 1-0 up with only a day in between for the hosts to reconvene.