Ervine helps Zimbabwe draw level

Craig Ervine’s experience and Malcolm Waller’s composure blended well as Zimbabwe overcame rain, pressure and fading light to clinch a steep chase and take the series into the decider. The four-wicket win (Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method) in Hambantota was as much a result of their good work with the ball in the last 15 overs – they conceded only 92 to restrict Sri Lanka to 300 for 6 – as it was with the bat. This after Sri Lanka looked set for 350 at one stage, given the platform Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka set with an opening partnership of 209. They became the first pair in ODI history to score back-to-back double-century stands.

Zimbabwe lost two quick wickets in their chase, but not before the openers had added 67 in nearly 10 overs, helped along by Solomon Mire’s 30-ball 43. When rain stopped play after the 21st over, Zimbabwe were 139 for 3, nine runs ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern par score.

There was a brief scare when the rains arrived too, with Zimbabwe needing to bat out one over to constitute a game. Sensing the possibility of going off, Angelo Mathews reintroduced Lasith Malinga. The first two balls took three minutes even as the drizzle picked up, leaving umpire Nigel Llong to have a chat with Mathews to speed up proceedings. Malinga eventually finished the over and a relieved Zimbabwe played out one more over from Gunathilaka before they went off.

One hour and 36 minutes later, Zimbabwe’s target was a much steeper 219 off 31 overs. Eight balls after resumption, they lost Sean Williams as he waltzed down the pitch to swing through, only to be stumped. Then, Wanindu Hasaranga, the 19-year old legspinner, picked up his third wicket with a sensational return catch to dismiss Sikandar Raza. Zimbabwe were trembling, the ball was suddenly keeping low. The equation read 47 off 34.

But Ervine stood firm, sweeping and reverse-sweeping his way to a half-century to keep Zimbabwe alive. Waller did his bit with three fours in a 13-ball 20, and the pair added 43 off 23 balls. When Waller was dismissed, Zimbabwe needed 4 off 11 deliveries and it was Ervine, who fittingly polished the match off with a delicate reverse paddle. Ervine’s solidity was key before the rain interruption, too, helping Zimbabwe ride out a wobble after Hasaranga had got rid of Mire and Hamilton Masakadza in consecutive overs. Prior to this series, Zimbabwe had never won an ODI in Sri Lanka. On this tour alone, they have two wins, both emphatic.

The win meant that Sri Lanka’s solid opening partnership and Dickwella’s second consecutive ODI hundred were in vain. Dickwella’s 116 made him the eighth Sri Lanka batsman to score successive ODI centuries while Gunathilaka, who curbed his aggressive style of play for a large part of the innings, contributed 87. Sri Lanka’s total may have seemed enough on most days, but not against a young and unheralded batting line-up that came out and attacked with intent, seemingly unperturbed by the spin threat or the big boundaries.

That Sri Lanka found themselves behind in the second innings was because of a slowdown in their end overs. The inability of the middle order to come in and strike right from the outset gave Zimbabwe an outside chance, which they converted. The openers started cautiously before Dickwella signaled a change of intent by hitting Chris Mpofu for successive boundaries in the fifth over. Sri Lanka motored to 54 without loss in eight overs when captain Graeme Cremer introduced spin, bringing on Sikandar Raza. The move pushed both Sri Lanka batsmen into a slightly cautious approach, but their degree of control stood out. Dickwella brought up his half-century off 48 deliveries.

Gunathilaka also had some luck when Cremer put down a tough return catch with the batsman on 44. However, Gunathilaka accelerated soon after bringing up his half-century, even as Zimbabwe’s bowlers persisted with the plan to contain the opposition. With 18 overs left, Sri Lanka were cruising at 193 without loss. Zimbabwe compounded their problems by reprieving both batsmen after they had crossed the 200-run mark but those errors did not turn out to be too costly as Waller accounted for both with his whippy offspin. Waller eventually finished with 2 for 44. While Mathews made a 40-ball 42, the lower order failed to kick on and Sri Lanka managed only 37 off the last five overs. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)