Left-handed opener Marcus Trescothick was at his belligerent best on Wednesday afternoon, crashing his second consecutive one-day century to pave the way for a massive 108-run English victory.
On the eve of the match Zimbabwe's coach Geoff Marsh had correctly identified Trescothick as the major threat as his team looked to defeat an inexperienced English side plagued with injuries.
And his worst fears were realised as Zimbabwe's wayward bowlers were unable to curb his powerful stroke play during a 102-ball 119 that powered England to a formidable 298.
It followed his equally commanding 109 scored against India during the NatWest Series final at Lord's.
On that occasion, despite his heroics, he was left on the losing side as India pulled off a remarkable victory, successfully chasing a mammoth 325.
That failure ensured that England did not take victory for granted as they went out to field under the lights at Premadasa International Stadium.
But Zimbabwe lack India's batting firepower and with England's seam bowlers swinging the white ball in hot and humid conditions they never looked capable of overhauling England's total, especially after match referee Ranjan Madugalle docked them two overs for a slow over rate.
Matthew Hoggard, who had struggled to control the white ball during the NatWest Series, provided further evidence of his emergence as England's leading fast bowler in the absence of Darren Gough.
The 25-year-old made early inroads into the Zimbabwean batting, grabbing three wickets as skipper Nasser Hussain pushed him straight through his 10 overs - an exhausting workload in such steamy conditions.
Alistair Campbell (2) was the first to go, dragging an in-swinger onto his stumps, before Grant Flower (7) nibbled at a curving out-swinger and was caught at slip in the eighth over.
Dion Ebrahim (20) and Andy Flower consolidated, adding 41, but with Andrew Caddick also bowling accurately the run rate was always climbing after a slow start.
Hoggard then claimed his third wicket when Ebrahim miscued a leg-side flick and Zimbabwe were precariously placed on 55/3.
Andy Flower, who had struggled with a strained thigh in the field, was left in the familiar role of holding the innings together. But he could not keep pace with the required rate.
Fortunate to be reprieved by the television umpire on 31 when Stewart was convinced he had glanced a catch down the leg-side, he was eventually snared for 44 by the vitamin-fuelled Ronnie Irani.
Stuart Carlisle (23) then cut Irani straight to first slip to leave Zimbabwe with no hope on 111/5 in the 30th over of the innings.
Irani finished with four for 37 from his 10 overs but England were unable to wrap up the innings as Streak scored an unbeaten 50 from 58 balls.
Earlier, Hussain had won the toss, providing his batsmen with the best of the batting conditions.
Trescothick made the flying start that Marsh had feared, punishing both Heath Streak and Douglas Hondo who bowled too full and wide.
But while the pink-cheeked Trescothick crashed boundaries through the inner circle at will, Nick Knight (8) lacked fluency before playing onto his stumps.
Hussain, who had sat out England's only practice game, provided the perfect foil for Trescothick scoring 75 from 97 balls.
Less emotional than when he scored a hundred at Lord's, a landmark that was greeted with an ugly finger-pointing outburst at the television commentators, he played with controlled aggression.
The pair added 141 for the second wicket and at the halfway mark England were 148/2, looking set for a total well in excess of 300.
But the innings lost momentum during the latter stages after the dismissal of Hussain, Ronnie Irani and Trescothick in the space of seven overs.
Debutant Ian Blackwell (17) heaved one impressive six over mid-wicket but failed to settle, Owais Shah scored 25 from 24 balls and Alec Stewart guided England in with an unbeaten 23.
England now face a crunch game against India on Sunday, the winner of which will play South Africa in the semi-finals, assuming that South Africa defeat Kenya on Friday.