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February 16, 2006
Sri Lanka 259 for 2 (de Zoysa 63, Karunaratne 53) beat Zimbabwe 256 for 8 (Meth 91, Pathirana 2-44) by 8 wickets
Determined half-centuries from Sameera de Zoysa, the replacement captain, and Dimuth Karunaratne, who combined with an opening stand of 114, laid the foundations for the middle order to reach a useful target of 257 with 16 balls to spare. But when Gary Balance and Keegan Meth were forging Zimbabwe's major partnership - a stand of 131 for the fourth wicket - they were on course for a total nearer 275.
Whereas in earlier matches Sri Lanka's top order had been guilty of trying to tee off too soon, here de Zoysa and Karunaratne initially played circumspectly against the new ball. Once their eye was in, both batsmen chanced their arm by lofting over the in field. With the scoring rate increasing, Sean Williams opted to hold back his second Powerplay, but the Sri Lankans were content to milk the singles.
Williams also delayed introducing his two of his more effective bowlers until the openers were well into their stride. Graeme Cremer and Ryan Higgins have troubled most teams in the last two weeks but, confusingly, were the sixth and seventh bowlers used.
Cremer forced the first breakthrough for Zimbabwe, as Karunaratne drove back a simple return catch, but progress wasn't considerably slowed as Ashan Priyanjara latched onto anything loose. Cremer was then in the action again, this time throwing the stumps down to remove Priyanjara with a smart piece of fielding. When de Zoysa was forced to retire hurt with cramp, Zimbabwe had a sniff with two new batsmen at the crease.
However, Dilhan Cooray and Hans Fernando were in no mood for messing about and nudging their way to the target. They opened their shoulders, piercing the off-side, as well as sprinting between the wickets and stealing enough singles to cause Williams to pull his hair out. They carried Sri Lanka home with a string of boundaries and at last gave the host nation something to smile about.
Sumithra Waranakulasuriya, Sri Lanka's coach, said the recent problems had been a motivation: "The players were upset but we told them they had gone and it was down to the others." And he added that it was pleasing to see the batting click: "We have been working on batting in partnerships for a long time. Today they did it well and didn't panic when they saw the big total. The openers gave us the momentum to go for it."
Unlike Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe had made a rocky start to their innings, slipping to 39 for 2 against some wholehearted, if not consistently accurate, new-ball bowling. Balance, though, kept his poise, while Meth launched into a robust innings with a string of powerful shots. The fielding was embarrassing at times, as the ball resembled a bar of soap to many of the Sri Lankans. The coach admitted it wasn't very impressive: "It isn't that we don't do enough fielding [practice] because they work hard. It's just when they are in the field perhaps they don't anticipate the catches very well. The ones dropping them are also the good fielders which is the frustration."
But when Shalika Karunanayake removed Balance the innings stuttered and Meth was trapped lbw by a sharp yorker from Tissara Perera nine short of deserved century. Ryan Higgins boosted the total with some sensible hitting towards and, with an in-form spin attack, 256 was a sizeable total. In the end it was made to look well below par as Sri Lanka's batting performed to its potential. Better late than never.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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