The fairytale of Zimbabwe's run to the final is etched in every scorecard of this tri-series. They have not just been winning but have looked like a team that knows how to win. They have rarely chased targets with such serenity ever before. Where did the nerves vanish? Where did the infamous middle-order collapses disappear? Where did that tendency to choke at the sight of victory go? Zimbabwe have had only one bad day so far and their confidence has visibly increased with each win. Their celebrations - the Bebeto-style cradle-the-child, Hamilton Masakadza's 'just married' under-shirt flash, and the choreographed dance between Ray Price and Chris Mpofu - indicate a happy team basking and growing in success. They are a game away from their first triumph in a multi-nation tournament involving Test-playing nations. The stakes are that big for Zimbabwe and their fans on Wednesday. Schoolboys have flooded the stands and they have inspired grown-ups to dance as well, giving the atmosphere a carnival feel.
While it's tempting to side with the underdogs, it will be foolish to overlook Sri Lanka, the strongest team in the tri-series. Nuwan Kulasekara, a vastly under-rated new-ball bowler, will return for the final after missing the dead rubber against Zimbabwe, which Sri Lanka lost. So will Ajantha Mendis, who, despite his recent decline, sparkled in the second game against India, conceding only six runs in two overs during the batting Powerplay. Mendis has a terrific record against Zimbabwe, with 20 wickets from seven games. Tillakaratne Dilshan hinted that Angelo Mathews might also return for the final. Sri Lanka are going to be difficult to beat twice in a row.
The final will also help determine whether this is a 'win toss, bowl first, and win the game' tournament. The inconsequential game between these two teams nearly disproved that theory. After getting sent in, Dilshan started with such impunity that Sri Lanka were on course for 300 at one stage but were thwarted by Zimbabwe's spinners. Elton Chigumbura had used seamers for 13 of the first 15 overs but he won't be repeating that tactic in the final. Expect the nagging Price and the deceptive Prosper Utseya to be unleashed on the Sri Lankans with the new ball, while Graeme Cremer and Greg Lamb await their turn. An absorbing contest awaits us.
Form guide (most recent first)
Zimbabwe: WWLWL Sri Lanka: LWWLW
Watch out for...
Opener Brendan Taylor has been consistent this series but it's Hamilton Masakadza who provides Zimbabwe the X-factor at the top. A lot depends on him if Zimbabwe are to get an aggressive start. Masakadza is unafraid to go over the top and has the skill to accompany that attitude.
Don't look beyond Sri Lanka's best new-ball operator Nuwan Kulasekara. He has a wonderful wrist position at release and he can either cut the ball in or get it to go through straight without discernible difference in his action. Time and again batsmen have fallen to his two-card trick. Kulasekara, however, is not such a force with the old ball and he could bowl a large quota of his overs up front.
Zimbabwe (possible) 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Brendan Taylor (wk) 3 Chamu Chibhabha/Andy Blignaut, 4 Charles Coventry, 5 Tatenda Taibu, 6 Craig Ervine, 7 Greg Lamb, 8 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 9 Graeme Cremer, 10 Prosper Utseya, 11 Ray Price.
Stats and trivia
Kulasekara has 88 wickets at an average of 27.93 in his career but his 10 against Zimbabwe cost only 16.20 apiece.
Zimbabwe have won 99 ODIs so far. Will they win their 100th game tomorrow?
Dilshan has only three fifties from 16 games against Zimbabwe and his highest is 78.
"I try to tell myself to stay relaxed as much as possible; you have a job to do and go out there and do it. They [Sri Lanka] have rested some players in this game and so definitely the contest will be stiffer in the final." Brendan Taylor knows that Sri Lanka will up the ante in the crunch game.
"The seamers have struggled with the new ball but the spinners have bowled really well all through this season. If I lose the toss in the final, I won't be too concerned; it's just the matter of doing well on field." Elton Chigumbura is not too concerned by the trend of teams chasing emerging victorious so far in the series.