A score of over 300 used to be safe in Sri Lanka. Before Friday, chasing sides had attempted to run down scores of over 300 on 32 occasions, and failed every time. Now, in the space of a week, two such scores have been hunted down with ease – Sri Lanka today hauling in Zimbabwe’s 310 for 8, with eight wickets in hand and 16 balls remaining, without ever really appearing to extend themselves.
Leading the pursuit today were Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka – two first-time centurions – who in a searing opening partnership that yielded 229 runs, left Sri Lanka in such an ascendant state, that the remaining 82 runs almost seemed a formality. Dickwella, forever slinking around his crease, scored well over half his runs behind the wicket, playing sweeps, cuts, dabs and scoops aplenty. Gunathilaka, meanwhile, stood tall in his crease, and played an array of regal drives and disdainful pulls. Having trailed Dickwella for much of the innings, he would finish with 116 runs off 111 balls. Dickwella made 102 off 116 deliveries. Upul Tharanga and Kusal Mendis saw the chase home with little drama – Tharanga making 44 not out, to go with his two unbeaten fifties previously in the series.
That the hosts were chasing so many was thanks to a rollicking fifth ODI century from Hamilton Masakadza, which was followed by a rapid finish from Sikandar Raza and Peter Moor, during a Zimbabwe innings in which even Lasith Malinga found himself besieged. Masakadza’s 127-run second-wicket stand with Tarisai Musakanda – playing this match in place of Ryan Burl, who was admitted to hospital after aggravating a food allergy – formed the spine of Zimbabwe’s innings, with the likes of Sean Williams also providing handy contributions.
Zimbabwe’s own bowlers would soon themselves falter, thanks to the challenges of playing at this venue. Not only did the pitch offer little for seamers, such turn as it afforded spinners was slow and unthreatening, while Hambantota’s lively crosswind complicated their quarry further. It also did not help that Zimbabwe dropped no fewer than four catches, the costliest of which was the grassing of Dickwella at point, off the bowling of Williams, when the batsman had been on 64.