One of the virtues of sport is to learn lessons from stinging failures and use it is as a springboard to success. Failure forces sportsmen to dig deep and fuel motivation to achieve success. In the cricketing landscape, Zimbabwe was going through what seemed like a never-ending tunnel of darkness. In the recent past, the African nation had lost a 50-over game each to Scotland and Netherlands.
Despite disappointing performances, Zimbabwe’s players refused to throw themselves into the towel and instead, conquered the fear of failure by defeating their more fancied opponent, Sri Lanka, in the final ODI to seal their first-ever series against the island nation across formats. But there must have been a few jangling nerves and chewed nails in the Zimbabwe camp as they lost a slew of wickets on their way to a momentous three-wicket win.
At 175 for 7, the visitors seemed to have thrown away the solid platform provided by Hamilton Masakadza (73) and Solomon Mire. For a moment it seemed as if Sri Lanka would claw their way back and script a jailbreak. At that crucial juncture of the match, Sikandar Raza (27 not out) played with composure to guide them home.
He was well supported by Graeme Cremer (11 not out), the captain, as the duo ran sharp singles and twos to frustrate the Sri Lankan camp. With six runs needed for victory, Raza went for the jugular by waltzing down the track to Wanidu Hasaranga and lofting him over the long-on boundary. The Zimbabwe camp must have been filled with tension as the ball hung in the air for a while, but perhaps the wind took it past the long-on fielder.
Zimbabwe’s players were ecstatic as they celebrated long and hard. On the other hand, Angelo Mathews and co. stood vanquished. Sri Lanka’s players were expressionless, perhaps wondering what might have been.
The major share of Zimbabwe’s epoch-making win should go to Masakadza and the spinners. While chasing down a target of 204, the tourists needed a good start, especially with the track aiding the spinners. Masakadza and his partner at the other end, Solomon Mire, provided a flying start with a stand of 91 for the opening wicket.
It was Mire who tried to break the shackles by talking Nuwan Kulasekara for 18 runs in the fourth over. The highlight of his power-hitting in that over was the way he clubbed a full delivery from the experienced pacer for a six. Masakadza soon joined in the fun by regularly collecting boundaries of the two spinners – Akila Dananjayaand Hasaranga.
To make matter worse for Sri Lanka, Mire was reprieved twice in the 11th and 14th over. Eventually, Asela Gunaratne sneaked one through Mire’s defences to break the threatening stand. Masakadza continued to score freely as he took Zimbabwe to within 67 runs of victory. The veteran, though, soon fell to Lasith Malinga and that opened the doors for Sri Lanka’s comeback.
Dananjaya then ripped through the middle-order as Zimbabwe lost six wickets for just 38 more runs. Raza and Cremer, however, closed the window of opportunity for the hosts with a crucial undefeated stand of 29 for the eighth wicket.
Earlier, Raza and Cremer had picked up five wickets between them to restrict Sri Lanka to a modest total. Danushka Gunathilaka (52) composed a fine fifty at the top of the order, while Gunaratne held the lower order with a vital hand of 59 not out. He also stitched crucial stands of 27 and 50 with Dhananjaya and Dushmantha Chameera respectively. On a track assisting the spinners, Sri Lanka perhaps would have believed they are in with a chance to win the series, but it wasn’t to be.
Sri Lanka are placed eighth in the ICC rankings with 88 points, with Zimbabwe climbing to 11th (54 points) after their memorable series win.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 203/8 in 50 overs (Danushka Gunathilaka 52, Asela Gunaratne 59*; Sikandar Raza 3-21) lost to Zimbabwe 204/7 in 38.1 overs (Hamilton Masakadza 73, Solomon Mire 43; Akila Dananjaya 4-43) by three wickets.