Bruised Sri Lanka battle to stay alive
Sri Lanka's dire start to the new year has made Zimbabwe unlikely favourites, and another defeat will see Dinesh Chandimal's team crash out of the tri-series
Expectations of this Sri Lanka team were not high. They had spent much of 2017 losing lavishly in all corners of the world, dropping catches, batting like dolts, and bowling with little venom. Yet, even by those standards, this has been a dire start to the new year. They are yet to win a match in a tri-series featuring the sixth and tenth-ranked sides. If they lose this next game, they will have crashed out.
Incredibly - and unthinkably only eight months ago - it is Zimbabwe who are the more highly-favoured side. This is the same Zimbabwe who had lost a series
at home to Afghanistan last year. The same Zimbabwe who have not played ODIs since last July. Of the six most recent matches between these teams, Zimbabwe have won four - three of those victories having come in Sri Lanka. With Brendan Taylor back in their ranks, and Sikandar Raza consistently producing high-impact performances (at least against Sri Lanka), there is dynamism to their cricket that their opponents lack. Nor are they short of firepower at the top of the order. Hamilton Masakadza and Solomon Mire have taken turns ravaging Sri Lanka's pace attack.
However, as the square in Mirpur wears down, it is perhaps on the spin front that this match will be won or lost. Sri Lanka are blooding Akila Dananjaya, who has had steady performances so far, but is yet to develop into a consistent match-winner. For Zimbabwe, the likes of Graeme Cremer and Raza have been more reliably penetrative. Having just been bowled out for 157
by the Bangladesh attack, Sri Lanka's top order have some serious rebounding to do.
Sri Lanka LLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Before the bowlers derailed Sri Lanka on Wednesday, Hamilton Masakadza
had helped set up a challenging total, hitting 73 off 83 balls to ensure that the men lower down had a platform to launch from. In fact, Masakadza has been a key component in Zimbabwe's recent dominance over Sri Lanka - his last five innings against them have yielded 73, 73, 28, 111 and 41. Often, he has hit Sri Lanka's opening bowlers off their lengths, battering them to such an extent that even his batting partner Mire has reaped the benefits at the other end. There is batting firepower elsewhere for Zimbabwe, but it is Masakadza that Sri Lanka will be most desperate to neutralise.
One of coach Chandika Hathurusingha's projects seems to be to go in search of the old Dinesh Chandimal
. Once a hard-slashing free spirit, Chandimal has got his ODI game into a tangle over the past few years, progressing with laborious care at times, soaking up balls and putting pressure on his teammates as the run-rate flounders. So far under Hathurusingha, Chandimal seems to be attempting to reclaim his old panache - hitting reverse-sweeps early in his innings, and venturing more expansive strokes in general. His situation is now complicated by the temporary captaincy, but Sri Lanka are nevertheless in dire need of runs from Chandimal.
With Wanindu Hasaranga having had two modest outings, Sri Lanka may play left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan in Sunday's XI. Asela Gunaratne's place is also slightly under threat - perhaps from Danushka Gunathilaka.
Sri Lanka: 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt.) 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Lakshan Sandakan, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
Zimbabwe : 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Solomon Mire, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Brendon Taylor (wk), 5 Sikander Raza, 6 Malcolm Waller 7 PJ Moor, 8 Graeme Cremer (capt.), 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Blessing Muzarabani
Pitch and conditions
The weather in Mirpur is expected to be hazy but dry on Sunday, with temperatures reaching the mid 20-degrees range. The pitch is expected to take turn.
Stats and trivia
- Despite their success against Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe have lost four of their seven most recent ODIs against other teams (going back to January last year), including one loss to Scotland.
- Sikandar Raza needs 23 more runs to complete 2000 in ODIs.
- Dinesh Chandimal does not have an ODI half-century in his last 12 innings.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando