The day before this game, Elton Chigumbura couldn't stop asking for his top order, and his openers in particular, to start performing. At least seven times in a short press conference, he stressed the need for Zimbabwe to go through the first 15 overs with wickets in hand, something they had failed to do against Australia and New Zealand.
Chigumbura got what he wanted against Sri Lanka, probably much more than he wanted. Charles Coventry was dropped and Regis Chakabva moved up to open with Brendan Taylor. For one ball short of 20 overs, in contrasting fashion, the pair took on Sri Lanka, and even rattled them a little. Taylor especially was a sight, driving with such authority and fluidity that he looked better than the two century-making openers of the day. Chakabva held up the other end, occasionally stealing a boundary, but mostly making Taylor look even better.
But once the first fell, the rest crumbled into a messy heap; ten wickets for 72 in only 19 overs. It isn't much good your top-order getting runs if the rest are going to fall like that. "Chasing a bigger score is always hard," Chigumbura said. "To maintain the run-rate especially with our team was going to be difficult. But it's something we can work on. Like I said yesterday, our openers played pretty well and putting on a hundred partnership is a positive for the team. Hopefully we carry on from that and improve on those weaknesses after that first partnership."
For those 20 overs and the last five of Sri Lanka's innings, Zimbabwe were on some kind of level footing. But for the business ends of any game, the start and the finish, they were nowhere. The surface was probably better to bat on than the one New Zealand and Pakistan played on, but the basic lack of incisiveness in Zimbabwe's attack came through. Until Chris Mpofu dismissed a tiring, flailing Upul Tharanga in the 45th over, they had gone nearly 80 overs without a single wicket, including the ten-wicket loss to New Zealand.
It didn't seem the kind of form - or surface - to win the toss and bowl on. "No regrets at all [on the decision to field]," Chigumbura said. The decision was made, Chigumbura said, based on the "the dew factor. With our spinners I thought it was going to be better to bowl first for our spinners to grip the ball. It was a good wicket to bat on. Dilshan and Tharanga both batted pretty well and like you saw with our batting, for the first 20 overs our opening batsmen played really well, so it was a good track to bat on. You can't really take three or four wickets first-up on that."
Theoretically Zimbabwe are not out of the race for the World Cup quarter-finals just yet. They will fancy their chances of beating Kenya and from the established sides in the group a schizophrenic and suddenly unsure Pakistan probably offer the widest glimpse of an upset. A 139-run defeat is as big as it seems but Chigumbura saw reasons to believe, in the attitude at least.
"It's a big loss but I think the approach that we took was positive," he said. "Though we were all out we were going for the score. If you wanted to play for a better score or better defeat we could've lasted 50 overs. But we were all positive going for it, so it's something we have to improve on where we went wrong today."
And in the bigger picture, for a side realistically aiming for a return to Test cricket sooner rather than later, experience of surfaces and conditions in India and Sri Lanka will be priceless. This was Zimbabwe's first ODI in Sri Lanka since September 2002 and the games in India their first since 2006. "Playing in these conditions your line has to be different from other continents and the way you have to bat, more straight than across. We've learnt that, but we have to apply all those things we have learnt and put it together for a good game against Pakistan."