Asela Gunaratne gave Sri Lanka a late lift with a half-century. Zimbabwe, energised by the prospect of defeating Sri Lanka in a bilateral series for the first time, bowled with venom, fielded with purpose, and laid on a 50-over siege that allowed the opposition to scramble to no more than 203 for 8. THE REPORT BY ANDREW FIDEL FERNANDO
Gunathilaka 52, Raza 3-21, Cremer 2-23) v Zimbabwe 50 overs Sri Lanka 203 for 8 (Gunaratne 59*, Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Put in on one of the trickier tracks of the series, Sri Lanka never found rhythm, faltered repeatedly against disciplined spin bowling, and unless a strong performance with the ball can be roused up, face the prospect of stumbling to their most dispiriting loss in a year that has been full of them.
Among Zimbabwe’s spinners, there were no weak links. Sikandar Raza was the best of them, claiming 3 for 21, but Graeme Cremer, Sean Williams and Malcolm Waller also made breakthroughs, and were uniformly stingy, collectively conceding just over three an over.
Danushka Gunathilaka made a pained fifty, and Asela Gunaratne stuck by the tail, hitting 59 not out to ensure Sri Lanka batted out their overs, but there was precious little resistance otherwise. Zimbabwe were squeezing the life out of the innings, and no one summoned up the skill to reverse this pressure.
Tendai Chatara sparked Sri Lanka’s decline by having Niroshan Dickwella nick a seaming ball to the wicketkeeper in the second over, but it was through Raza’s calculative first spell that Zimbabwe truly applied their tentacles to this innings. Slowing the ball, tossing it tantalisingly up, he had Kusal Mendis chip a ball to short midwicket after drawing him down the pitch, then ripped a perfectly-pitched delivery past Upul Tharanga’s forward defence, to rattle his off stump. Where in each of the previous two matches, Sri Lanka put up opening stands in excess of 200, they were 34 for three after 11 overs in this game. Raza had bowled six of those overs, and his two wickets had cost only 11 runs.
No Sri Lanka batsman appeared fluent, but Gunathilaka was the best of them in the early overs, using his long stride to smother some of the spin that foxed his teammates. Even so, his 47-run fourth-wicket partnership with Angelo Mathews was stilted. Mathews had picked up what seemed to be a groin strain early in his innings, and was unable to take the tight singles and twos that are perhaps at a premium on a pitch such as this. When he was caught at slip for 24, playing a tired drive to Graeme Cremer, Sri Lanka were 78 for 4, and in more than serious trouble. Gunathilaka passed fifty for the fourth time in the series, but lost concentration and was trapped in front by Williams in the 32nd over.
Gunathilaka’s wicket was the first of three in the space of three overs, and suddenly having slipped to 126 for 7 in the 35th over, Sri Lanka were in danger of failing to make it even to the 40th over. But it was at this stage that Gunaratne established some sort of control over the innings. He farmed the strike with Akila Dananjaya for company at first, then gelled nicely with Dushmantha Chameera, who contributed an intelligent 18 not out. Together, they mustered 34 off the last four overs – Gunaratne shuffling around the crease to hit square boundaries. Their unbeaten 50-run stand was the best of the innings, and if nothing else, gave Sri Lanka something to bowl at.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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