Dilshan century drives Sri Lanka to title
On the final day of the tri-series, the clock struck 12 and Zimbabwe's Cinderella XI ran into harsh reality. Put into bat, they were accosted by top-quality swing bowling from Nuwan Kulasekara and Dilhara Fernando, and the damage done in those early overs was too great to reverse for a resourceful Tatenta Taibu, who swept and hustled his way to 71. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga were ruthless in finishing Zimbabwe off with a 160-run opening stand.
Zimbabwe were also hit hard by their batsmen's general tendency to not play the full-blooded cut shot. Brendan Taylor, their best batsman of the tournament, and Taibu, the best on the final day, both fell to limp cuts, finding gully and point respectively. On the big day, Zimbabwe displayed muddled thinking too: with five wickets down, both Greg Lamb and Charles Coventry got out swinging, but the batting Powerplay wasn't taken before the 46th over. Nor did they open the bowling with spin, a move that had worked well for them. By the time Ray Price bowled his first over, Sri Lanka had already reached 38 in six overs.
At any rate, even Price's best effort might not have been enough. They were forced into perennial rebuilding mode by the Sri Lankan new-ball bowlers. Kulasekara swung the ball in, Fernando out, and Zimbabwe hardly looked like challenging the norm of chasing sides winning in the tournament. Kulasekara gave four runs in his first four overs for the wicket of Hamilton Masakadza, and Zimbabwe never really recovered.
If Fernando's bowling - fuller than his stock length, thus getting outswing - was a bonus, Kulasekara's use of the straighter delivery was just as good. When an asphyxiated Masakadza tried to counter the inswing by walking across the stumps, the ball just held its line and took a healthy outside edge. Taylor struggled against the current, going from 4 off 10 to 19 off 21, but played perhaps his worst shot of the series when he looked to steer Fernando despite the presence of a gully fielder. Thilan Samaraweera went low to his right to complete the catch, and the openers were gone inside the first 10 overs.
The change-up bowlers were just as tight, and by the start of the 17th over Tatenda Taibu and Craig Ervine had scored 16 off 51 deliveries between them. The pressure showed in their going for risky runs: an over after Ervine survived a close one, Taibu ran him out, calling for a tight single and then sending him back.
Then began Zimbabwe's recovery. Taibu went on a sweeping spree, of both varieties. He and Lamb ran hard, putting behind them the run-out. One of those stolen singles earned them four overthrows too. In the 24th over, Taibu hit two lovely chipped boundaries over extra cover. From 7 off 24, he had moved to his fifty off just 70 balls, during a partnership of counterattack.
Taibu and Lamb had added 90 when Fernando was called back in the 36th over. Taibu got one short and wide, and he went for the cut. The bat face closed a touch early, and he held back a bit too. Instead of going over point, the ball went straight to the fielder.
A spell of ordinary cricket from Zimbabwe thereon resulted in a collapse. Lamb found it hard to keep alternating the strike, Elton Chigumbura played a tame chip to straight extra cover, and Lamb and Coventry succumbed to big shots without having opted for the Powerplay. Fernando and Ajantha Mendis made sure there was no final flourish, and only poor batting from Sri Lanka could now save the hosts.
Poor batting they were not going to get. Dilshan loved the pace Chris Mpofu and Chigumbura provided. He whipped the first ball he faced through midwicket, and never looked back. By the time Price came on to bowl, Dilshan had hit his way to 25 off 19. Once again, the Zimbabwe bowlers made the mistake of bowling too short to him, and paid the price.
With only a small target, the Sri Lankan openers didn't offer the Zimbabwe spinners the respect they were used to. Dilshan hit boundaries in Price's first two overs and, as has been the trend, Tharanga took over after the Dilshan blitz. By the 17th over, Tharanga had almost caught up with Dilshan, and brought up Sri Lanka's hundred with an effortless six over long-on, off the bowling of Prosper Utseya.
The only matter of interest then was the race between the batsmen to a century. It was ended when there was misunderstanding over a sharp single to short third man, and Tharanga sacrificed his wicket. With 40 runs required, Dilshan was the likelier man to get to the hundred, and he did, and overtook Taylor as the highest run-getter in the tournament.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo