London: Sri Lanka weathered a belligerent knock of 66 from Alex Hales to beat England by nine runs on Tuesday in its first Twenty20 international since winning the world title last month.
Allrounder Thisara Perera smashed 49 off 20 balls to lift the Sri Lankans to 183-7 after being put into bat in a night match at The Oval.
Just as England was faltering midway through its reply, Hales gave his team hope with a 41-ball salvo that included seven fours and two sixes and revived memories of his brilliant 116 not out against the same opponent at the World Cup in Bangladesh.
However, the big-hitting opener was clean-bowled by fast bowler Lasith Malinga, who then only conceded four runs off Sri Lanka's next-to-last over to finish with match-best figures of 3-28.
That helped Sri Lanka sneak home in the first international match of its tour, with England finishing on 174-7 and Ravi Bopara stranded on 28 not out.
The teams meet for a five-match one-day series before playing two tests next month.
England was the only team Sri Lanka lost to on its path to World Cup success in Bangladesh — and that was largely because of arguably the innings of the tournament by Hales.
Malinga, Sri Lanka's captain in this new era without the retired Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, stopped Hales in his tracks this time by holding his nerve once again at the end of a run chase.
"I really enjoy that period," Malinga said. "I really enjoy that pressure situation."
Perera was named as man of the match with a knock that ultimately put the match out of reach for England. Like Hales, he hit seven boundaries and two sixes — all in the final five overs of the innings — before getting run out on the last ball, chasing his fifty after crashing a ball into the stumps at the other end of the crease.
Lahiru Thirimanna weighed in with 40 and T20 debutant Kithuruwan Vithanage added 38 to give England a testing target to chase, with left-arm paceman Harry Gurney marking his T20 debut for England with team-best figures of 2-26.
England lost Michael Carberry (7), Ian Bell (13), Joe Root (5) and Eoin Morgan (5) cheaply in the reply but Jos Buttler joined Hales and crashed 26 off 16 balls to keep England in with a chance.
Buttler and Hales departed within the space of eight balls and lusty late hitting by Bopara could not claw back enough runs for England.
After an ODI win over Scotland two weeks ago, this was the first defeat of England's new regime under Peter Moores.