There was a kind of symmetry to this tri-series, which started and ended with a capitulation by Zimbabwe's batsmen. The difference, for captain Graeme Cremer, was that this time around his team made Sri Lanka work much harder for their win. Defending 160, Zimbabwe took a wicket with the first legitimate delivery bowled and Sri Lanka toiled for 38 overs for their six-wicket victory.

"When we went out there, we said even if they get our score one wicket down, we'll make it as hard as we can for them," Cremer said. "We weren't going to go searching for the wickets, but we wanted to put them under pressure and make it the hardest 160 they've scored. That was our goal."

Cremer had Kusal Mendis caught in the deep for 57, while left-arm quick Brian Vitori - who was not originally part of Zimbabwe's squad for this series - nipped out three wickets at the top of the order. Vitori's was one of three surprising changes Zimbabwe made to their XI for this match. Malcolm Waller was brought back, without making much impact, but Tarisai Musakanda, the 21-year-old Mid-West Rhinos batsman, sprinted to an eye-catching 36 on debut.

"We hadn't really put on a big total [previously], so we felt that maybe just changing it up a little bit, and putting up something different to all the innings that Sri Lanka have had might work," coach Heath Streak explained. "Musakanda is someone we've been holding back, but we just felt it was the right time. They didn't know much about him, and he showed exactly what he's got.

"I think he's got a bright future. I'm very happy with him. And then Vitori, we picked him for exactly what he showed today. We felt we needed him. (Dhananjaya) De Silva and (Kusal) Perera have been really damaging up front, and we got them both early, so that paid off."

Vitori had played for the Zimbabwe A side against Pakistan last month, before heading to Cape Town to fulfill a club contract. Because of this, he was not originally included in Zimbabwe's tri-series squad, but had been training with the group since his return from South Africa. "He had a contract in Cape Town, and we'd wanted him to stay but he had to go down and fulfill that," Streak explained. "But he managed to get back here, despite missing out on the Test series. And he's been practising and bowling with us here in the nets with the boys, and giving all our batters a hard time, so we felt that maybe he could do that to the opposition."

Cremer conceded that, in hindsight, bowling first might have been Zimbabwe's best choice upon winning the toss. The weather forecast for the match hinted at rain, with the afternoon looking particularly iffy. As it turned out, Zimbabwe batted through gloomy low cloud and rain, while Sri Lanka's batsmen had the benefit of bright sunshine that dried the pitch and eased batting conditions.

"In hindsight, we probably could have bowled first," Cremer said. "But the way it looked this morning, we thought it would only get worse or stay how it was. The wicket was a bit sticky this morning, so it took a lot of turn. But it looked really good to bat out there this afternoon. It's just one of those things. We couldn't predict that."

Unpredictable weather aside, Streak suggested that 240 would have been a defendable total on this pitch. "It was a wicket that over 600 runs had been scored on recently," Streak said. "It was still quite dry, although obviously with a bit of rain, it got a little bit tacky. Despite that, no-one really got out, other than Masakadza, to an unplayable delivery.

"It wasn't a 300 wicket by any stretch of the imagination. We could have got to 240 or 250 if we'd batted a bit more sensibly, and if we'd done that it could have been a different story today. We've got to move on and take the good part of the series with us, and learn from the things that we didn't do so well, and make sure we don't repeat them in the future."

Despite Sunday's defeat, Cremer was positive about Zimbabwe's overall performance through this series. The hosts were able to knock West Indies out of the competition, while batsmen Sikandar Raza and Craig Ervine have found some form, averaging 54.33 and 36.75, respectively, across five innings.

"We're still trying to find the right combinations," Cremer said. "Streaky has just come in [as coach]. I haven't been captain for that long. So we're trying to find the right XI for the conditions we play in, whether we go away or we play here. A lot of positives. We've got a lot of young guys coming through. Carl Mumba is a bright prospect. Musakanda of course. PJ Moor is still really young in international cricket, and we know he can play at this level. Raza played really well in a few innings. It's good to see him back in a bit of form. Sean Williams showed signs today that he's starting to get back into it. So we're quite excited for the couple of months ahead."

Zimbabwe will - hopefully - be starting their domestic season at the beginning of December. Their next scheduled assignment is away, to Sri Lanka, in June, but coach Heath Streak insisted that other fixtures would be added to the calendar in the new year.

"We've got some tours that we're working on, between now and [Sri Lanka]," Streak said. "We'll definitely have some cricket between now and the time we got to Sri Lanka next year. Guys have got provincial cricket, and we'll get together as a national squad where opportunity arises. There is a lot of specific stuff that we want to work on and keep improving. I've spoken about fielding, but there are all sorts of things that we need to put in place. There will be a lot of cricket early next year."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town