Sri Lanka 246 for 7 (Arnold 51*) beat Zimbabwe 221 for 9 (Taylor 74, Muralitharan 5-23) by 25 runs, and won series 5-0

Tillakaratne Dilshan hits out during the final one-dayer at Harare, which Sri Lanka won to complete a 5-0 whitewash of Zimbabwe © Getty Images

Sri Lanka, despite some periods of uninspired cricket, completed a predictable clean sweep of the one-day series when they beat a gallant young Zimbabwe team by 25 runs at Harare Sports Club. An unexpected and invaluable opening stand of 79 between Stuart Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor put Zimbabwe in with a chance of overhauling Sri Lanka's modest 246 for 7, but the inexperience of the middle order in the face of Muttiah Muralitharan and an ever-increasing run rate proved too much for them.

Both Zimbabwe's openers were hesitant at first, but they gained in confidence, helped by the absence of Chaminda Vaas and by Muralitharan's late appearance in the bowling ranks (apart from a single over to enable the new-ball bowlers to change ends). Matsikenyeri dominated the stand with 37, before being smartly stumped by the stand-in wicketkeeper Tillakaratne Dilshan, while Taylor was generally quieter, apart from a remarkable six over extra cover off Rangana Herath.

Then Murali did come on, and immediately put a brake on the scoring - his first six overs cost just three runs. Taylor and Tatenda Taibu (26) tried their best, only to find themselves falling further behind the clock, and when both were out in quick succession, Taylor perishing on the midwicket boundary for 79, hopes of an upset faded.

Muralitharan, with 5 for 23 in his ten overs, turned the match, and was well supported by the slow left-armer Herath, who took 2 for 36 and two catches as well. Again the raw Zimbabwean line-up was able to prove competitive, although Sri Lanka were inconsistent and seemed unable to lift themselves against such weakened opposition.

Earlier in the day Sri Lanka survived another careless slump by their middle order to reach 246 for 7. They were struggling at 162 for 6 in the 42nd over before Russel Arnold and Farveez Maharoof tore the bowling to shreds in a dynamic partnership which swung the balance back strongly in Sri Lanka's favour at the halfway stage.

The weather remained fine, but the crowd at the start did not even number three figures. Sri Lanka this time played a stronger - but not their strongest - team, with Murali returning along with the captain Marvan Atapattu and Nuwan Zoysa.

Douglas Hondo began with an impressive maiden over to Saman Jayantha, while Tinashe Panyangara again supported him well from the other end. With 21 on the board, Jayantha (8) lost patience and lashed out at Hondo, only for Tawanda Mupariwa to pull off a good flying catch at extra cover.

After that, Atapattu and Jayawardene adopted a policy of steady accumulation, cutting out the big shots - except for one occasion when Jayawardene came down the pitch and lofted Panyangara high over mid-on for four - and working the ball successfully for ones and twos at almost five an over. They added 72 together before, in the 19th over, Atapattu cut Mupariwa uppishly and was caught at backward point for 38 (93 for 2).

Dilshan, who later kept wicket in place of Kumar Sangakkara, came in next, and he and Atapattu continued to concentrate on the singles. Mupariwa again impressed with the ball, and produced a superb slower delivery, a yorker, that deceived and bowled Jayawardene for 47 as he attempted to hit it over mid-on for four and reach his fifty (128 for 3). Then Sri Lanka began to wobble, as Dilshan foolishly attempted a quick single straight to Dion Ebrahim, a fine fielder, and was easily run out for 21 by a direct hit (137 for 4).

More trouble was to come, as Taibu took off his pads to bowl, as he had in the first match, and bowled Thilina Kandamby with a swinging ball for 7 (146 for 5). Upul Chandana had pulled Sri Lanka out of the mire on Tuesday, but Thursday was a different matter. He made only 3 before clipping Taibu straight to midwicket (162 for 6).

This time Arnold and Maharoof came to the rescue in spectacular style. Taibu and Matsikenyeri, a part-time offspinner, had been keeping the runs down nicely, but Taibu fatally decided to return to his pacemen for the final overs, and they were smashed to the tune of 71 from just 41 balls before Maharoof holed out at long-on for 38 (233 for 7), including two fours and two gigantic sixes. Arnold reached a 51-ball fifty off the final ball of the innings.

It proved enough, along with Murali's tight spell, for Sri Lanka to win the match and sweep the series. Zimbabwe did better, and their improved showing might just persuade the Zimbabwean board that they can do without the 15 dissenting players in the forthcoming two-Test series which starts at Harare next Thursday (May 6).