Sri Lanka’s ninth-wicket partnership snuck their team home in the Colombo rain, battling off a spirited Zimbabwe bowling and fielding performance led by Richard Ngarava. Defending only 209, Nagara took early wickets, and finished with 5 for 32 from his 10 overs, as the likes of Sikandar Raza and Blessing Muzarabani produced menacing spells of their own.

And together they had repeatedly had Sri Lanka on the ropes in their chase, particularly when No. 9 Dushmantha Chameera and No. 10 Jeffrey Vandersay came together with Sri Lanka needing 37 to win off 45 balls. But the pair batted sensibly. Ngarava had already been bowled out at this stage, and Muzarabani was the last remaining threat – Craig Ervine having used his most-threatening bowlers up early in his quest for wickets.

Together Chameera and Vandersay whittled down the requirement, before in the penultimate over, Vandersay scooped Faraz Akram over his shoulder, and then drove him through the covers for four next ball, in what were the final dramatic moments in a match that had swung in either direction repeatedly.

That these last blows came in the rain, which had earlier caused a significant delay, only added to the theatre. That this partnership had been forged after the departure of Janith Liyanage, who hit 95 off 127 balls, thus providing the most substance to this innings, made the finish even more riveting.

Of all the regrets Zimbabwe will have from this match, however, none will be greater than their collapse from the 37th over onwards. Having been 182 for 4, and headed towards a score of around 250, they lost their last six wickets for 26 runs. Captain Ervine, who had made 82 off 102, was the first to depart in that sequence, having been caught athletically by Sadeera Samarawickrama at backward point.

It was Liyanage’s innings that ended up defining the match however, and he who was most responsible for pushing the game deep as the other batters fell around him. (The next-highest score on the Sri Lankan card was 21.) Although he too struggled against Ngarava’s new-ball bowling, he was patient until the hittable balls came, crashing Ngarava to the cover boundary to start the seventh over, before pulling him neatly behind square several balls later, when Ngarava bowled short.

With the surface somewhat tacky, his innings was mostly a slow grind. He’d hit only three boundaries after 82 balls, although he was forced to enter a more aggressive mode when the tail came in. He hit two sixes, both off spin and both on the legside, and forged an important 46-run seventh-wicket stand with Maheesh Theekshana, who contributed 18.

Having earlier completed his half-century off the 85th ball he faced, Liyanage seemed headed for a maiden ODI ton in only his second game. But with rain coming down in the 43rd over, and Sri Lanka behind the DLS rate, Liyanage attempted to thump Muzarabani over long off for four, and wound up only miscuing it to the fielder. Zimbabwe smelled victory and employed attacking fields with both Vandersay and Chameera yet to get off the mark. But those two tailenders’ cool heads would defy Zimbabwe.

But it had been Ngarava’s tenacity in his first spell that set the tone for what became an intense defence of their modest total. He claimed Avishka Fernando’s wicket fifth ball with a back-of-a-length delivery just outside off stump, which Fernando inside-edged through to the keeper.

In Ngarava’s next over – another edge. Sadeera Samarawickrama flashed at a fullish wide ball, and sent it to Ervine at second slip. Zimbabwe would get only these two wickets in the first powerplay, but having been 16 for 2, Sri Lanka were forced to bat with more caution. In his next spell, he also dismissed Kusal Mendis and Charith Asalanka, having built further pressure with more back-of-a-length bowling.

And though there were mistakes in the field, and with the ball (Muzarabani bowled Kusal Mendis off a no-ball, for example), it was their nosedive with the bat that prevented Zimbabwe from posting a competitive score. Ervine had driven beautifully through the course of his innings, and had struck up half-century partnerships with Joylord Gumbie, and Ryan Burl.

But when he cut a Chameera ball too close to Samarawickrama, who flung himself explosively at the ball to intercept it, Ervine left the lower middle-order exposed, and they succumbed rapidly to the spin of Theekshana and Vandersay. Theekshana picked up 4 for 31 in the innings. Vandersay and Chameera took two wickets apiece.

Source: ESPNCricinfo


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