On Tuesday, two significant weaknesses in Sri Lanka's XI were exposed. On flat tracks, even with Dushmantha Chameera in the side, the bowling attack lacked for penetration through the early and middle overs, with only legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay claiming wickets in the first 35. Then, while chasing 303, the top order's fragilities were laid bare. Against testing but hardly unplayable bowling, Sri Lanka were 31 for 3 inside eight overs, and 63 for 4 inside 15. Although captain Dasun Shanaka's maiden international hundred kept Sri Lanka in the hunt, you don't come out on top of many chases with the kind of start they had.
Their strategy has come under serious review with that loss; perhaps they are a batter short. With Kamindu Mendis and Charith Asalanka capable of contributing overs, could they perhaps push Chamika Karunaratne down to No. 8? And it is possible they did not use their better bowlers enough. Vandersay had one over unbowled; Karunaratne, who had taken a wicket and gone at only four an over, delivered only six of his possible ten.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, will be thrilled at their own bowlers' performances. Blessing Muzarabani was the standout on Tuesday, as he, Tendai Chatara and Richard Ngarava produced arguably the defining period of the game - the early overs of Sri Lanka's innings. In fact, such was the dominance of those three quicks, and the control of left-arm spinner Wellington Masakadza, that Zimbabwe didn't even need Sikandar Raza to bowl his offspin at any stage. The attack also held its nerve when the match seemed headed for a tight finish.
A victory in the final match would give Zimbabwe their first series win of this inaugural Super League cycle after also tying a series against Ireland. And it would be the second successive ODI series they would have won in Sri Lanka, having done the same back in 2017, which amounts to serious bragging rights.
Sri Lanka LWWLW (Last five completed matches; most recent first) Zimbabwe WLLWL
In the spotlight
In the four years that Blessing Muzarabani has played ODIs for Zimbabwe, he has had a substantial impact. Away from home, his numbers are excellent: 25 wickets from 16 matches at an average of 27.32. And what is more, since late 2020, he is on a pretty serious run of form despite the infrequency with which Zimbabwe play. In his last nine ODIs, he has gone wicketless only once. Tall, sharp and accurate, he will likely be a menace again come Friday.
While Dasun Shanaka did not have the best night as captain, perhaps mismanaging his bowling resources, he will at least be pleased that he produced his first excellent innings since taking over as Sri Lanka's white-ball captain last year. His form had been a concern right through the last few months, and was perhaps the greatest sticking point in his captaincy so far. Another good innings will help shore up his leadership.
Pitch and conditions
Another flat surface is expected in Pallekele. The weather is not forecast to interrupt.
Offspinning allrounder Ramesh Mendis is likely to come into Sri Lanka's XI in order to target Craig Ervine and Sean Williams, the two left-handers in Zimbabwe's middle order, as well as to bolster the hosts' batting. Maheesh Theekshana, who has been economical without being a major wicket-taking threat, is likeliest to make way.