Second-string Sri Lanka too strong
Sri Lanka 223 for 9 (Sangakkara 63) beat Zimbabwe 151 (Ebrahim 50*) by 72 runs
The allround skills of Kumar Sangakkara and Upal Chandana carried a dangerously weakened Sri Lanka through to a 72-run victory over Zimbabwe in the fourth one-day international at Harare Sports Club. Sangakkara scored 63 and pulled off five dismissals behind the stumps; Chandana scored 51 at a vital stage, before grabbing two wickets and a run-out.
Zimbabwe did well with the ball, considering their inexperience, but their woefully weak batting let them down when set a tantalising 224 for victory. Only a dogged unbeaten 50 from Dion Ebrahim saved them from a total collapse.
Sri Lanka left out five of their top players for this match; their captain, Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya, and their three top bowlers in Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa. They seemed to be doing their utmost to even up an uneven series.
As a result, Zimbabwe began their chase with unusual confidence. Sri Lanka's replacements, Nuwan Kulasekara and Dilhara Fernando, were much less accurate than Vaas or Zoysa, but a wild shot by Stuart Matsikenyeri wasted his own opportunity to make hay and ended the opening stand at 19.
Brendan Taylor mixed some confident strokes all round the wicket, including a superb straight six off Rangana Herath, with some more diffident shots, and had made 38 off 61 balls when Chandana dragged him out of his crease with the perfect leg-break. The rest of the top order struggled to maintain the necessary scoring rate, although with Tatenda Taibu at the crease there was still hope.
But Taibu had made only 12 when he fell to a fine catch by Sangakkara behind the stumps, off a genuine thick edge. Ebrahim dropped anchor, but needed an aggressive partner at the other end as the required run-rate approached seven an over. When Alester Maregwede was brilliantly caught at midwicket by Tillakaratne Dilshan, Zimbabwe had slipped to 115 for 5 in the 34th over.
That was virtually the end of the resistance as the tail subsided. There were two wickets each to Chandana, Arnold and Farveez Maharoof, who was the most impressive of the seamers, conceding only 19 runs in 8.4 overs before being rewarded at the very end.
The current Zimbabwe team is, to choose one's words carefully, less weak in bowling than in batting, although their bowlers have not had much chance to prove this recently. This time, however, Douglas Hondo and Tinashe Panyangara started well, finding some movement through the air especially, and they were backed by keen though sometimes fallible fielding. However they were not accurate enough to apply any real pressure, and the new opening pair of Sangakkara and Saman Jayantha only had to wait for the bad ball and dispatch it.
The openers put on 43 before Jayantha (23) tried to loft the debutant Tawanda Mupariwa, in his second over, only for Elton Chigumbura to run back and take a fine catch over his head at mid-off. This was a relief for Chigumbura, who had earlier dropped the same batsman at extra cover.
Panyangara conceded 23 runs in an impressive eight-over opening spell, while Mupariwa looked promising at the other end. Both kept the ball well up to the bat, a wise policy on a pitch which didn't encourage driving. In the 25th over, Mupariwa produced a superb slower ball that deceived and bowled Jayawardene for 26.
This proved a minor turning point as Zimbabwe took advantage. Mupariwa was in the action again with an excellent run-out to send back Russel Arnold, and then in his first over, Mluleki Nkala had Sangakkara (64) caught in the covers and the debutant Thilina Kandamby caught behind. Sri Lanka were suddenly in some trouble at 137 for 5 in the 33rd over.
But Chandana seems to revel in this kind of situation, and he produced the goods at a crucial time for Sri Lanka. He made 51 off 55 balls before running himself out in the final over, while trying to steal a bye. He was rightly named Man of the Match for saving Sri Lanka's blushes.