A belligerent 112 from Solomon Mire set Zimbabwe on track, Sean Williams‘ 65 provided stability, and Sikandar Raza‘s sparkling 67 not out laid out the finishing touches as a fearless Zimbabwe ran down Sri Lanka’s score of 316 to make history in Galle.
Not only was this Zimbabwe’s first ODI victory against Sri Lanka on the island, it was also the first time any team successfully pursued a score in excess of 300. In the end, the chase seemed virtually nerveless. Raza and Malcolm Waller accelerated through the final overs to reach the target with the only six of the innings, with 14 balls to spare and six wickets in hand.
Nothing Sri Lanka tried in the back half of the innings worked. Angelo Mathews tried switching his bowlers haphazardly, bringing his wicket-takers back early, and bowled seven men in the innings, but none could shake Zimbabwe’s resolve.
As ever, dropped catches will haunt Sri Lanka. Mire was dropped on 17 and 94 – the first of those a difficult opportunity to the wicketkeeper, but the second a straightforward chance to Lasith Malinga, who made a mess of an overhead catch from short fine leg. Williams was also dropped on 13 by Danushka Gunathilaka at point. Had that chance been taken, Williams and Mire would only have had 37 together. Instead, their third-wicket stand of 161 off 133 balls would form the spine of Zimbabwe’s rousing victory.
Perhaps you could argue that Sri Lanka should have scored more than 78 in the last 10 overs, given the number of wickets they had in hand, but that is a minor quibble. With Kusal Mendis hitting 86, Gunathilaka joining him for a century stand, and Upul Tharanga making 79 not out, the batsmen largely did their part.
Zimbabwe’s innings began inauspiciously, Hamilton Masakadza gloving a legside Malinga ball to the wicketkeeper, before Craig Ervine top-edged a sweep off Akila Dananjaya to deep square leg just after the first Powerplay had finished. With the score at 46 for 2 in the 11th over, 317 looked distant indeed. But in that same over, Mire hit successive boundaries, and followed those up with a reverse sweep for four soon after.
Suddenly, batting began to appear much easier. Mire and Williams rotated the strike fluently, and Sri Lanka’s two inexperienced spinners were perhaps guilty of a little indiscipline – Aponso particularly expensive through those early overs. Dananjaya at least seemed to draw regular mistakes from the batsmen, and perhaps could have been used more intensively when Sri Lanka were searching for wickets. By the time he was brought back, the match had largely slipped.
It was the legside Mire preferred by far – 87 of his runs coming there. He was ruthless on anything that strayed into his pads, but fetched plenty of balls from wide outside offstump as well. Williams strove largely to turn the strike over. Between overs 15 and 30, the pair added 108 runs, and that, effectively, is where the match was won.
Although both batsmen were gone by the end of the 35th over – Mire having completed his maiden ton in the 31st – Raza had the time to work himself into the innings, before he heralded his charge with three boundaries off Asela Gunaratne in the 39th over.
What was probably most impressive about the 102-run stand that took Zimbabwe home was how toothless they made Sri Lanka’s bowlers seem. Malinga’s slower balls were expertly parsed, and his swinging yorkers were not merely defused; some were heavily scored off. The spinners were manipulated and picked off, and even Nuwan Pradeep – who was Sri Lanka’s best bowler in the Champions Trophy – began to err towards the death. Zimbabwe, in playing intelligent, percentage cricket, took the game firmly by the collar, and Sri Lanka wilted quickly under pressure.
For much of the chase, Zimbabwe needed about a run a ball, but when Waller hit three fours in the 43rd over, bowled by Aponso, he brought the equation down to 33 off 42 deliveries, and it was always going to be a cakewalk from there. Raza completed his half century in the 45th over, and wound up hitting the winning blow over long-on.
It had seemed inconceivable that this total would be mowed down with so many balls to spare when Sri Lanka’s batsmen had walked off the field. Their innings was founded on a flowing 117-run second-wicket stand between Mendis and Gunathilaka – Mendis nearly flawless until his leading edge was sharply snaffled by Graeme Cremer in the 32nd over.
The two had negotiated Zimbabwe’s coterie of spinners on a track that afforded some slow turn, and had seen out the moving new ball. Gunathilaka drove effortlessly, while Mendis swept and pulled disdainfully. Crossing 28 with an especially ravishing shot through midwicket, Mendis became the joint second-fastest Sri Lankan batsman to 1000 runs, one innings slower than Roy Dias, who had achieved the milestone in 27.
Later in the innings, Tharanga would cross 6000 career ODI runs as well, batting from the No. 4 position after ceding his opening spot to Gunathilaka. Mathews cracked 43 off 30, and Gunaratne made a spry 28, but they were all let down by the bowling and fielding effort.
On the bowling front for Zimbabwe, seamer Tendai Chatara returned the best figures of the innings – and indeed the game – claiming a wicket at either end of the innings, and going at only 5.44 an over.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando