HAMBANTOTA: They came to Sri Lanka ranked 11th, having been defeated by Scotland in the previous month, and having lost a series to Afghanistan earlier in the year. But bowling with venom, fielding with pep, and batting with intelligence, helped Zimbabwe win the deciding fifth ODI by three wickets in Hambantota, and stun the hosts 3-2. It is their first away series victory since 2009, and one of Zimbabwe cricket’s finest moments ever.
Though their quartet of miserly spinners had trussed Sri Lanka up for 203 in their 50 overs, and though their openers slammed 92 for the first wicket, victory still had to be prised from their opposition on a slowing, turning deck. Zimbabwe were 137 for 1, when a Sri Lanka surge, led by Akila Dananjaya, claimed six wickets for 38.
But as long as Sikandar Raza was at the crease, Zimbabwe’s chances of victory remained good. He survived the last of Dananjaya’s overs, and alongside Graeme Cremer, saw out a burst of swinging Lasith Malinga yorkers. Having been such a high-impact player over the past nine days, perhaps it was also fitting that Raza made the series’ final play. With six to get, he ran down the pitch and deposited Wanindu Hasaranga over the straight boundary to spark elation in the dressing room. His 27 nerveless runs followed an excellent turn with the ball, with which he captured 3 for 27 – two of those wickets having come in the tone-setting first 10 overs.
Hamilton Masakadza capped an outstanding series with an 86-ball 73, Solomon Mire and Tarisai Musakanda made useful batting contributions, and the other spinners – Cremer, Malcolm Waller and Sean Williams – all made important breakthroughs as well. So many in this Zimbawe outfit can take credit for the series triumph – almost every batsman has produced an impactful innings, Tendai Chatara has been reliable, and they have outfielded Sri Lanka too – though that is not the compliment it once was.
Sri Lanka will be left to rue their timidity with the bat – which was brought into sharp relief by Zimbabwe’s openers – and their lack of ambition with the ball in the early overs. Where Raza had been immediately menacing, slowing the ball down, and tossing it tantalisingly up, Sri Lanka’s spinners bowled too quickly through the early overs, when Mire and Masakadza were mowing them down. Agencies
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