Sangakkara seals Sri Lankan victory
Sri Lanka 144 for 4 (Sangakkara 73*, Dilshan 35*) beat Zimbabwe 211 for 6 (Taibu 96*, Zoysa 3-21) by 12 runs - D/L method
Before the start of this first one-day international between Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, it was widely expected that the inexperienced new Zimbabwean team would be humiliated. In fact, it was a lukewarm Sri Lankan team that had to fight hard in the end to avoid embarrassment. It took a fine unbeaten 73 from Kumar Sangakkara, and a bit of help from Messrs Duckworth and Lewis method, to end Zimbabwe's resistance.
Except at the start and finish of the match, Sri Lanka were unimpressive, perhaps unable to motivate themselves properly knowing they were facing a stand-in Zimbabwe team with an average age of 21. But Zimbabwe put in a highly spirited allround performance and gave the tourists a several shocks before finally going down. The catalyst was their Man of the Match Tatenda Taibu, who hit a superb unbeaten 96 on his captaincy debut, when all seemed lost with the Zimbabwe batting.
The partnership between Taibu and Alester Maregwede turned the Zimbabwe innings round from a precarious 79 for 5 in the 25th over. When Maregwede finally holed out on the long-on boundary for 37, respectability at least was assured.
On a good pitch, Marvan Atapattu won the toss for Sri Lanka and amazed everybody by putting Zimbabwe in to bat. Good, accurate bowling by Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa, both obtaining a little movement in the air and off the pitch, proved too much for Zimbabwe's raw opening pair of Vusi Sibanda and Brendan Taylor, who both fell without scoring. Zimbabwe were two down after two overs, the only run on the board being a leg-bye.
This brought Taibu to the crease for the start of the third over. Dion Ebrahim batted doggedly with him for 13, but never looked confident, while Elton Chigumbura, also made 13 in a brief cameo. But the situation looked bleak until Maregwede joined Taibu.
Mluleki Nkala also played above himself with some powerful strokes in an unbeaten 33 at the end, including two sixes over midwicket. But Muttiah Muralitharan was surprisingly ineffective later in the innings, taking 1 for 47 in his 10 overs. Vaas, with 1 for 9 in his first seven, had his figures spoilt to the effect of 1 for 31 off ten, while Zoysa, who did not bowl at the death, was the pick with 3 for 21.
Sanath Jayasuriya showed Sri Lanka's intentions by lashing the first ball of the innings through the covers for four, but had just 9 to his name when he edged a catch to first slip, giving Tinashe Panyangara a wicket with only his second ball in international cricket. Atapattu was then adjudged lbw to Douglas Hondo without scoring, but Kumara Sangakkara began aggressively and was 18 not out off 13 balls when the rain came.
The target was adjusted to 173 off 33 overs when play finally restarted. Mahela Jayawardene fell for 5, holing out at long leg, and the pinch-hitter Nuwan Zoysa made a brisk 14, but at 77 for 4 the match was still in the balance. The run rate, however, was good, and so that pressure was lacking as Tillakaratne Dilshan joined Sangakkara at the crease.
This pair took Sri Lanka home by way of steady ones and twos rather than spectacular strokes. After 27 overs, though, the light had deteriorated and the batsmen accepted the offer of the umpires to leave the field. They were 12 runs ahead of the Duckworth/Lewis asking-rate at that stage, with Dilshan having contributed a valuable unbeaten 35.
Sri Lanka kept their honour, but they will start the second match on Thursday more warily than they did this one. As for Zimbabwe, they surprised this time, playing above themselves, but adrenaline will not suffice for ever and the fear remains that their serious lack of depth will soon be exposed.