A century from Moeen Ali was not enough to prevent an improved England falling to a narrow 25-run defeat to Sri Lanka in the first one-day international in Colombo.
Opener Moeen led from the front with a superb innings of 119 from just 87 balls (his maiden ODI hundred and the third quickest by an English batsman in ODIs) as the tourists looked to chase down the hosts' total of 317, of which Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 88, Kusal Perera 59 and Mahela Jayawardene 55.
Had they achieved this feat it would have set a new record run-chase by an England international side in ODI cricket.
But Worcestershire batsman Moeen was given little support by the top order and when he himself fell with 20 overs remaining, and England still 115 runs from victory, it left the remaining five batsmen with too much to do.
Ravi Bopara brought them close with an impressive 65, but he was unable to carry England home and was last man out when he skied a catch to Kusal Perera off the bowling of namesake Thisara.
It was a disappointing end to the match but England will take a lot of positives from the match as they look to continue honing the side ahead of next year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
However, for the first half of the match, there appeared to be little difference between this England performance and the kind that has seen them lose four of their previous five series in the 50-over format.
Lax bowling enabled the home side to get off to a superb start, with openers Dilshan and Perera adding 120 before the latter was run out by Joe Root.
Kumar Sangakkara lasted just five balls, for two runs, before he fell lbw to Moeen, but the home side hit back as Jayawardene took the game to England, firstly alongside Dilshan (before he was caught and bowled by Chris Woakes) and then with Angelo Mathews.
Mathews' innings climaxed with two huge sixes off James Tredwell but in his quest for a third he was caught by Ben Stokes and Jayawardene fell next ball off the same bowler, with Jos Buttler holding a leg-side catch.
After Woakes picked up his second wicket to dismiss Thisara Perera, courtesy of a catch by Alastair Cook at extra cover, Lahiru Thirimanne (27 not out) and Jeevan Mendis (30 not out) took over to steer Sri Lanka to an imposing total, which was assisted by 16 wides.
England's innings got off to a very shaky start as Cook was given out lbw to Mathews twice in the first over, only for both to be overturned on review.
Cook was only repreived for a short time, though, as Dilshan finally got an lbw call to stick to dismiss the opener for 10.
However, Cook's opening partner Moeen was in far more stubborn mood in the first match since his elevation to the top of the innings and, along with Ian Bell, he set about batting the tourists into the game.
The pair took England past 100 before Bell fell in the 15th over for 35, caught at slip by Jayawardene off Thisara Perera.
Moeen remained unruffled but the same could not be said of Joe Root or Eoin Morgan, both of whom fell for single figures to Perera and Ajantha Mendis respectively, before a quick-fire innings of 21 from Buttler was ended when he was bowled by Dhammika Prasad.
When Moeen was caught and bowled by Mendis to leave England 203-6, it looked as though Sri Lanka would emerge comfortable winners.
However, Bopara picked up where Moeen had left off with some intelligent hitting to edge England closer to the home total.
Unfortunately, none of Stokes, Woakes or Tredwell could remain with him for long and Bopara's (and England's) mission eventually ended in noble failure in the 48th over.