England Lions were handed a lesson in one-day cricket, sub-continental style as an experienced Sri Lanka A team claimed a comfortable win in the first of their five-match series.
Half centuries from the openers Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka, plus a hard-hitting unbeaten 56 off 35 balls from the international veteran Thisara Perera, left the Lions chasing a Duckworth-Lewis adjusted target of 290 from 48 overs on another cloudy Dambulla day.
Despite 64 in 70 balls from captain Keaton Jennings, they slumped to 133 for seven before an innings of defiance and skill from Craig Overton averted the threat of a heavier defeat.
Overton, who was omitted from the Lions' two four-day matches against Sri Lanka A but had already been the pick of the seamers here with two for 46, reached his first List A 50 from 36 balls with three fours and two cleanly-struck legside sixes, dominating an eighth-wicket partnership of 76 in 11 overs with Liam Livingstone.
But Livingstone, who had showed his all-round ability by taking one for 28 in 10 overs of spin, fell lbw to lively seamer Lahiru Madushanka in the gathering gloom, and the umpires ruled that the light was unplayable with the Lions down to their last pair and needing 60 off five overs – leaving Overton unbeaten on 60 from 45 balls.
It was a disappointing start to the series for the Lions, and an indication that the Sri Lankans will be a far tougher proposition on home soil than they were in the Tri-Series in England last summer.
Jennings won the toss and chose to bowl on a cloudy morning after the start had been delayed by half an hour because of a shower.
The Lions fielded four specialist seamers, but were denied the early wickets they wanted by an opening stand of 123 inside 25 overs between Kusal Perera and Gunathilaka.
The next phase of the game belonged to the Lions as they took six wickets for 68 in 13 overs. Livingstone deserved huge credit for that, bowling his 10 overs straight through with impressive control before claiming the wicket of Sandun Weerakkody in his last.
That brought Sri Lanka’s first right-hander to the crease – Sadeera Samarawickrama – and Livingstone, who had bowled exclusively off-spin to the left-handers in Sri Lanka’s top four, then rounded off his spell with two balls of leg-spin.
Toby Roland-Jones had made the first breakthrough, having Perera caught by Tom Helm at mid-on, and Helm then won a caught behind verdict against Gunathilaka as he gloved a pull down the legside.
Overton had bowled a tidy three-over spell early in the innings then returned to claim two wickets in his next three overs, with Kithuruwan Vithanage clipping to Joe Clarke on the leg-side boundary, and Samarawickrama falling in similar fashion to Gunathilaka, bottom-edging a hook.
Helm claimed his second wicket when Jennings took a sharp catch at cover to dismiss Shehan Jayasuriya, and the Sri Lankans were struggling at 191 for six.
But Thisara Perera reclaimed the initiative in a seventh-wicket stand of 65 in eight overs with his captain, Milinda Siriwardana, hitting five sixes.
The Lions needed a good start and Ben Duckett looked in good touch until he was stumped off Gunathilaka’s off-spin.
Tom Alsop also showed some promise before falling lbw to Jayasuriya, another off-spinner. But Clarke fell cheaply to Madushanka, and then came the key loss of Jennings, who had hit one straight six and reverse-swept three fours, but top-edged an orthodox sweep off Jayasuriya to short fine leg.
Ben Foakes, Roland-Jones and James Fuller all fell in quick succession but at least Livingstone and especially Overton provided a sting in the tail.
The next match in the series is also in Dambulla on Saturday before the teams move on to Kurunegala and the last two matches in Colombo.