Two strong leaders different from each other in most ways yet united by the leadership role they have played in their respective teams shone bright on the first day of cricket under lights in this series. Everything Mahendra Singh Dhoni did, Mahela Jayawardene did better, but ended up on the losing side. The difference in the end India got home by 33 runs was that India's top-order showed self-belief.
Jayawardene, whose 94 eclipsed Dhoni's 76, has made strident calls for consistency from his fellow batsmen. The words had no effect, but if this innings does not jolt some of the cavaliers in the top order, it won't be long before the Sri Lankan captain rings in some changes.
Jayawardene, in pursuit of India's healthy 237, could easily have given up when the batting was all gone at 59 for 6. Lesser men might have holed out to the deep attempting big shots. Why, Jayawardene in his youth might have done just that, but the man on the field today is a mature leader and a batsman of considerable skill and finesse.
Jaywardene began so slowly, as though trying to prove a point, and in a way he was: this match could still be won, if only someone stayed at the crease long enough. Thilan Thushara was that unlikely gent, sharing an 81-run stand that resuscitated a match long left for dead. The panic in the Indian camp grew steadily, with catches being spilled and close decisions being contested. Jayawardene, who scented opportunity, began to play his shots, hitting inside out over cover with precision and slashing the ball into backward point when the field allowed it.
It was only when Jayawardene, six short of a century, paddled Munaf Patel to short fine-leg that victory was assured. In his near three-hour stay Jayawardene had steered the Lankan ship to 192, but it would not be enough with the last wicket falling on 204.
On a day where the premium was on effort hard toil and application rather than flashes of brilliance, the standout performance of the Indian run-build was Dhoni's purposeful innings. When he came out to bat, India, at 91 for 4, were perfectly placed for a quick collapse. Dhoni restored the calm, running like a man possessed and using his heavy bat to defend rather than hit the cover off the ball.
For a man with a rustic looking technique, Dhoni has a surprisingly good defence and this came to the fore in the course of his 54-run stand with Suresh Raina. Had a yes-no-yes bit of calling been avoided, Raina may have gone on to make more than his eventual 53.
Nuwan Kulasekara gave a hint of things to come winkling out Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. With Virat Kohli running himself out and S. Badrinath failing to clear mid-off, the fans were roaring in the stands. But Dhoni took India from 91 for 4 to 229 before he was the eighth man dismissed.
Only 27 when Raina was run out, Dhoni began to play his shots. Having taken the Indian innings towards safety, Dhoni fell in the penultimate over, when a whipped drive resulted in a leading edge to cover. Dhoni had played a captain's knock with his 80-ball 76, and thrown down a serious challenge to Sri Lanka in their backyard.
The white Kookaburra ball always does a bit when it's new, and under lights Praveen Kumar and Zaheer Khan extracted exaggerated movement off the pitch, and Sri Lanka's batsmen walked into the traps laid for them. Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara fell with only 26 on the board, and once the cannons were silenced the smaller artillery just did not fire. Chamara Kapugedara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Silva and Chaminda Vaas accounted for just 29 between them and Sri Lanka were looking down the barrel at 59 for 6. Jayawardene then played his own version of the captain's innings, and though it was superior to Dhoni's effort, it would not be enough on the day.