Johannesburg - Zimbabwe fell significantly short in their first shot at qualifying for the 2023 World Cup when Sri Lanka inflicted a massive nine-wicket victory over the hosts at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.
It wasn’t to be on Sunday as Zimbabwe suffered the defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka who were simply brilliant throughout the course of the match.
You wouldn’t have imagined that Sri Lanka would come in hot like they did at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, especially having been rocked with news that spinner Wanindu Hasaranga was handed a demerit point for his behaviour in a recent match.
About two hours before the toss, the International Cricket Council announced that the tournament’s leading-wicket taker in Hasaranga had been reprimanded for his violent reaction after he was dismissed in Friday’s encounter against the Netherlands.
Luckily for the Asian team, that was the last bit of bad news they had to endure on the day and from that point onwards, everything fell into place for Sri Lanka.
Captain Dasun Shanaka started the day off by winning the toss and making the correct decision of bowling first in Bulawayo.
It was a correct decision statistically and also from the conditions on offer at the Queens Sports Club, but still, many Zimbabweans were flocking into the stadium from all corners of the country in anticipation of what would have been a great day for Zimbabwe Cricket.
It wasn’t to be for Zimbabwe as Shanaka quickly unleashed 22-year-old Dilshan Madushanka at the on-form Zim batters.
Known for his ability to take wickets upfront with the new ball even in the recently concluded SA ‘A’ series, Madushanka made early inroads and struck thrice to leave Zimbabwe on 3/30 seven overs into the match.
Despite only coming into the side four days ago as replacement for injured Dushmantha Chameera, Madushanka grabbed the big wickets of Joylord Gumbie for a duck, captain Craig Ervine (14 off 13) and Wesley Madhevere (1 off 5).
A spirited 68-run partnership between Sean Williams (58 off 57) and Sikandar Raza (31 off 51) followed until Maheesh Theekshana, who until this match was uncharacteristically unsuccessful with the ball, found his groove and broke the partnership.
Shanaka accounted for Sikandar Raza and from there on in, it was the Theekshana show. The mystery spinner helped bowl Zimbabwe out for 165 runs, taking 4/25 in the process and winning man of the match for his performance.
Zim only spent 32.2 overs batting and that left plenty of time for Shanaka to rally his troops to complete a flawless run-chase.
With a target of 166 in 300-balls, there were no doubts about the effect opener Dimuth Karunaratne was going to have on his batting partner Pathum Nissanka.
Karunaratne has an ability to read and understand precisely how to time a run-chase, especially with a low target on the board.
So many teams have struggled to chase down small targets; they often start off with a little complacency and casualty and before you know it, the bowling team has the advantage.
Not on Karunaratne and Nissanka’s watch. The pair put on 103 runs for the opening stand and made the Zimbabwe bowlers sweat, spending almost 20 overs before getting their first wicket.
Uncharacteristically, Karunaratne (30 off 56) skied a short ball and Brad Evans did the rest in the fine-leg boundary.
Nissanka carried on, smashing 14 boundaries on his way to a second ODI career century. The 25-year-old carried his bat and finished the chase unbeaten on 102 and beside him was Kusal Mendis (25* off 42).
It is not all doom and gloom for South Africa’s neighbours, Zimbabwe, as one last shot at qualifying for the World Cup is right around the corner.
They will take on Scotland on Tuesday to determine who will take the second and last World Cup qualification spot.
Should Zimbabwe win on Tuesday, they will become South Africa’s opening match in India at the 50-Over World Cup.