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Sri Lanka's impressive start to the Coca Cola Champions Trophy continued tonight at the CBFS Stadium in Sharjah, with an overwhelming victory over a lacklustre Zimbabwe side. Indeed, the Southern African team was so convincingly outplayed, that the game became a rather drab affair. Sri Lanka eventually bowled out Zimbabwe in the 49th over, to win the match by 123 runs.
Sanath Jayasuriya snatched the initiative from Zimbabwe in the first fifteen overs of the match with a swashbuckling half-century, which brought back memories of the heady days of the 1996 World Cup. Jayasuriya, who was reinstated with his erstwhile opening partner, Romesh Kaluwitharana, blazed 88 runs from just 66 deliveries.
However, Zimbabwe's fate was sealed after a penetrative spell of fast bowling by Nuwan Zoysa and Chaminda Vaas. Requiring 277 runs to win the match the Zimbabwean opening batsmen, Douglas Marillier (11) and Alistair Campbell (20), were given no freedom to play their strokes, and, in contrast to Sri Lanka, the innings stagnated in the early overs.
The pressure eventually told. Marillier, who had crashed the ball to the boundary the previous ball, was surprised by some extra bounce from Chaminda Vaas and was caught in the gully. Stuart Carlisle (0) was trapped LBW next ball.
Nuwan Zoysa, somewhat unlucky to not have already claimed a wicket, induced a faint edge from Andy Flower (0) five balls later and a thick edge from a frustrated Campbell (20), which was brilliantly caught by Mahela Jayawarden at slip.
Zimbabwe had crumbled to 35 for 4 in the 14th over. Worse, the ever-eager Mutiah Muralitharan couldn't wait to loosen his spinning fingers, and, with the type of glee normally associated with natural predators, set upon his opponents. Within two overs he had induced a daft reverse sweep from Guy Whittall (1) and had pushed Grant Flower right back on to his stumps.
The Zimbabwean cause now hopeless, the innings meandered on without direction, the batsmen torn between the desire to win the match and the need to protect their net run rate.
Earlier in the day, Zimbabwe had won the toss and elected to field. To their credit they fought back valiantly after Sri Lanka had raced to 105 from the first fifteen overs. When Kaluwithrana (25) was run out and Jayasuriya had his leg stump uprooted, the middle ordered faltered; Jayawardene (5) was bizarrely run out after straying from the crease unaware that Flower had the ball in his grasp, Sangakkara (4) misjudged the length and was clean bowled, and Russel Arnold (18) celebrated his birthday with a top edged sweep.
Were it not for some pyrotechnics from Chaminda Vaas (23) and Kashalya Weeraratne (14*) in the last three overs, and a typically measured half-century from Marvan Attapattu (58), Sri Lanka would not have scored in excess of 250.
Zimbabwe's hope will now rest in the mathematician's calculator. They have to beat India tomorrow convincingly and pray that Sri Lanka don't take the pedal off the gas when they play India on Friday.
Sri Lanka will take much pleasure from their performance, but know that there are issues to be addressed. Firstly, what to do about the third seamer, Kaushalya Weeraratne, who has proved expensive and one dimensional on the flat Middle Eastern tracks. Secondly, the inconsistency of the middle order
4th Match, Champions Trophy, SL v Zim, Statistical Highlights
It was the 1646th ODI in cricket history