Zimbabwe spark but Sri Lanka make it 3-0
HARARAE: A match reduced to 28 overs produced the series'' most compelling game in Harare, and the first performance by Zimbabwe to cause Sri Lanka a headache. Hamilton Masakadza''s pleasantly carefree strokeplay took Zimbabwe to within touching distance of their target. But in spite of Stuart Matsikenyeri pummelling 19 from 10 deliveries, late wickets cost Zimbabwe the match and, consequently, the series.
Nevertheless, after the first two drubbings Zimbabwe received, at least their supporters witnessed a contest this time. Rain and a soggy outfield delayed the start and, if anything, the reduction in overs caught Sri Lanka unawares. Their total of 171 for 7 was far from insurmountable, and with Masakadza timing the ball so sweetly, Zimbabwe were favourites when 28 were needed from the last three overs.
Masakadza has shown his potential of late, starring in the Kenya tri-series last month, and for the first time this series he gave Zimbabwe the sort of confident start they so needed, sharing with Vusi Sibanda in an opening stand worth 76. Farveez Maharoof was treated with contempt, mowed over midwicket for two huge sixes before standing tall to cut him away for four. With Sibanda happy to tuck singles, the combination worked beautifully for Zimbabwe, whose fifty came from 41 balls.
Thilan Thushara made the breakthrough for Sri Lanka but Masakadza motored onwards, registering his ninth half-century from 49 balls and carving Thushara for two crunching boundaries. However, Thushara got his man in the same over, and Zimbabwe still needed 38.
Mahela Jayawardene wheeled Ajantha Mendis back into the attack, whose first four overs had proved expensive, and he immediately had Elton Chigumbura bowled for a duck to redress the balance. Tatenda Taibu was the key for Zimbabwe, and had moved anonymously onto 31 in an innings dominated by the reverse-sweep, but he too fell when he was bowled by Nuwan Kulasekara. Despite the tumble of wickets Matsikenyeri gave Zimbabwe hope with a flat six off Mendis over midwicket, followed by four through point. Ten were needed from the final over.
Thushara was due to take the last over, but Jayawardene tossed the ball to Muttiah Muralitharan - a decision which ultimately turned the match in Sri Lanka''s favour, as Zimbabwe lost Matsikenyeri. With six needed off the final delivery, Sri Lanka had tightened the noose impressively, but only at the very last minute.
An encouraging performance from Zimbabwe''s batsmen, then, but also from their bowlers. Chigumbura struck two early blows, including Jayawardene whose lazy cut smacked of complacency, while Tawanda Mupariwa''s 4 for 39 helped restrict Sri Lanka''s strokeplay. Kumar Sangakkara, however, dug deep with a fine 57 from 59 balls.
Had Proper Utseya accepted a return catch from him on 16, the match might well have been Zimbabwe''s for the taking.