If touring a much higher-ranked cricketing nation after 16 years weren't much of a challenge in itself, Zimbabwe also had to contend with the history of not having won an ODI against Sri Lanka on their home soil. Prior to this series, they had lost all their eight ODIs to Sri Lanka in the island nation, but now have two resounding victories to their name - both of which came in pursuit of 300 or more. After drawing level with the hosts with a four-wicket victory in a rain-curtailed match on Saturday, Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer underlined what outperforming Sri Lanka at home meant to his side.
"I think [Zimbabwe have performed above what people had expected]. Sri Lanka is always a hard place to tour," he said. "It's hard to get games off the Sri Lankans here. I would say it is unexpected. They play so well at home and are a very hard team to beat here. So credit to our guys for sticking with it in a tough series. They probably didn't expect us [to win], especially today after scoring 300. But we always believed in it.
"Yeah, very happy [about the performance in the last two games]. We thought 300 was a gettable total on the wicket. The way we bowled in the last 10-15 overs to restrict them to 300 because at one stage they were looking at 340-350, maybe. The way their openers started, credit to the bowlers for pulling it back there."
In assessing the anchoring role some of the middle-order batsmen have played in the line-up over the years, Cremer spoke highly of Craig Ervine, whose unbeaten 55-ball 69 steered Zimbabwe's win after rain had set them a revised target of 219 in 31 overs.
"He was under a bit of pressure coming into this game," Cremer said. "He's been in good form but just hadn't had a score in the last couple of games. It just takes him to get post 20 for him to get us the score and actually win us the game. And he's done it a few times. It just shows his potential and his experience to control the game like he did, which was good."
Much of the eventuality of the match was decided upon the fading light and rain, which interrupted the chase after 21 overs, when Zimbabwe were 139 for 3, ahead of the par score of 130. When play resumed an hour and 35 minutes later, the equation was reduced to 80 runs off 60 balls for the visitors, with seven wickets in hand. Even though the stadium at Hambantota has flood lights, it had been decided before the series that they were not going to be used for cost-cutting measures.
"On this instance, if we had the lights, the full quota of overs might have been bowled," Angelo Mathews said. "So it could have gone either way. If the facilities are there, we'd like to have it. But, at the same time, it's up to the SLC to decide."
Cremer, however, conceded that Zimbabwe weren't too concerned about the Sri Lanka board not opting to use the floodlights.
"It's always a tough one. They could have talked to the ICC; they make the rules on that. It's always nice to get a 100 overs of cricket, you know, as many as we can get. But sometimes it's never possible. I don't think we would have an issue with that."
Having taken the series into the decider, Cremer was confident of putting up a good showing on Monday, irrespective of the toss.
"I assume, the pressure is more on them because they are expected to beat us," he said. "We won't take any pressure into the final because we will take the confidence from this game and know that if we have to bat first, we'll have to set a good score and if we have to chase, we can chase down the score. The confidence is pretty high."
With six wins from 19 ODIs as captain, Cremer is yet to lead his side to a series victory. The opportunity that the 2-2 result now offers him to achieve the feat is not lost on Cremer.
"We've had a few good games and stuff while I've been the captain, but nothing like this. A series win would obviously be excellent for us and myself. To beat a top team like Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka will be huge for us."