Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka, 4th ODI, Harare November 28, 2008

Mubarak holds nerve after Mendis' six

Cricinfo staff

Sri Lanka 147 for 8 (Mubarak 57*, Mupariwa 3-31) beat Zimbabwe 146 (Mendis 6-29)
Scorecard


Ajantha Mendis helped himself to another healthy bag of wickets in Harare © PA Photos
 
A disciplined performance in the field from Zimbabwe gave Sri Lanka more than the occasional fright, but the visitors eventually crept over the line by two wickets in Harare. Jehan Mubarak calmed the situation with an unbeaten 57, but Sri Lanka made very heavy weather of reaching 147. Zimbabwe showed plenty of spirit as Tawanda Mupariwa snapped up three wickets and there was some impressive spin bowling.

When the seventh wicket fell Sri Lanka still needed 31 and the home side were in with a chance of their first ODI victory since beating West Indies in November 2007. Mubarak was the last specialist batsman, but he responded to the pressure by remaining calm during his 98-ball innings. He added an important 24 with Dammika Prasad, but there was a final twist when Elton Chigumbura removed Prasad with eight still needed. When Mubarak took a single to expose Ajantha Mendis to three balls of an over it was Zimbabwe's chance, but Ed Rainsford sent down a low full toss that Mendis, who starred with the ball by collecting 6 for 29, clipped through midwicket.

The steady start provided by Upul Tharanga and Mahela Udawatte was deceptive and three wickets fell without the score moving. Prosper Utseya, who gave himself the new ball, removed Tharanga when he tried to sweep and got a top edge. In the next over Mupariwa really opened the door for Zimbabwe when he claimed Udawatte - driving to extra cover - followed by Mahela Jayawardene first ball, trapped half forward to a ball that would have taken middle.

While Zimbabwe have struggled to compete with bat and ball for a long time, there fielding has often remained up to the mark and Chamu Chibhabha pulled off a stunning grab at point, diving full length to his left, to remove Chamara Kapugedera.

As the top order wobbled, Kumar Sangakkara was trying to hold the chase together but struggled to find his usual timing on a pitch offering plenty for the bowlers. Balls were often stopping on the surface and it was one such delivery that did for Sangakkara as he popped a return catch back to Chigumbura. With another key man back in the pavilion, Zimbabwe's confidence really began to surge and belief rose further when Ray Price bowled Angelo Mathews for a duck.

Tailenders are not the best at keeping their cool in tight situations and Thilan Thushara won't have endeared himself to his team-mates with a wild heave at Chigumbura, which was taken at deep cover. Fortunately for Sri Lanka, Prasad showed more composure and Mendis did what was required.

It would have been tough for Mendis to end on the losing side as he again demonstrated his full repertoire with a six-wicket haul. He came on in the 14th over and struck with his fifth delivery, trapping Vusi Sibanda lbw. The batsmen struggled to lay bat on Mendis' variations with Stuart Matsikenyeri and Chamu Chibhabha also being trapped in front by differing degrees of flight and pace.

A major blow to Zimbabwe's hopes had come form pace, though, with Tatenda Taibu - their best batsman - edging to slip off the lively Thushara. The left-arm quick produced an impressive spell to complement the wiles of Mendis as the innings continued to limp forward.

Keith Dabengwa at least offered some defiance with a combative 32 off 59 balls, but he lacked any support. When the main bowlers were given a break, Mubarak's part-time offspin proved good enough to remove Chigumbura, who scratched around for 42 balls to make his 5 before Mendis collected two more as the tail subsided.

This time, though, it wasn't just Zimbabwe's batsmen who failed to prosper and the match developed into a unexpectedly exciting contest. Sadly, that's the exception rather than the rule.