Zimbabwe – 310-8 in 50 overs (Hamilton Masakadza 111, Tarisai Musakanda 48, Sean Williams 43; Wanindu Hasaranga 2/44, Asela Gunaratne 2/53)
Sri Lanka – 312-2 in 47.2 overs (Danushka Gunathilaka 116, Niroshan Dickwella 102, Upul Tharanga 44*; Malcolm Waller 1/32, Sean Williams 1/63)
Sri Lanka won by eight wickets
After Hamilton Masakadza’s rousing century propelled Zimbabwe to 310 for eight, this is one match they could have won.
Nay, it’s a match they should have won.
But after putting up a bland bowling performance, exacerbated by poor fielding, Zimbabwe could not stop Sri Lanka from winning the third between the two sides by eight wickets in Hambantota today.
To put the frustration of this defeat into context, consider this: before this ODI, only one team had successfully chased a 300-plus score on Sri Lankan soil.
And that only team happened to be Zimbabwe, when they beat Sri Lanka by six wickets in the first of the five-match series played in Galle last Thursday.
Now, seven days later two teams have done it.
Yet there were many positives for a rebuilding Zimbabwe side that in recent times has suffered from a lack of fixtures.
For the third time in as many matches, Sri Lanka won the toss and put the visitors in to bat first.
The home side fielded an unchanged side, while Zimbabwe made two changes – Carl Mumba replaced Donald Tiripano for tactical reasons as Tarisai Musakanda came in for Ryan Burl, who was hospitalised overnight for an allergic reaction to a fish dish.
The opening pair of Masakadza and Solomon Mire quickly adapted to the windy conditions and were settling in well when Sri Lanka got the breakthrough.
Mire had been fortunate to remain standing after he swung across the line and missed a length ball from Nuwan Pradeep that skidded through and nearly sent his off-stump for a walk.
The very next ball, Pradeep got his man, trapping Mire lbw for a 21-ball 13 that included two boundaries – his dismissal left Zimbabwe on 39 for one after 7.3 overs.
The 22-year-old Musakanda, who made his debut last November against Sri Lanka, came in at number three and was soon providing excellent support to Masakadza while also showing his exciting potential with the bat.
With both batsmen set and dominating the Sri Lanka bowlers, Masakadza flicked the final ball of the 27th over, bowled by the veteran slinger Lasith Malinga, to long leg for two runs that brought up his fifth ODI century.
It had taken him 83 balls, 14 of them carted to the boundary and one lofted over the rope, to reach the masterful hundred.
Four balls later and before another run could be added, Gunaratne struck a massive blow by breaking the 127-run stand that had held the innings intact for 19.1 overs.
Musakanda, just two runs shy of what would have been his second ODI fifty, skied a catch to long-on to depart for a well-played 48, which came off 57 balls and included four boundaries and one maximum.
His dismissal reduced Zimbabwe to 166 for two after 26.4 overs and brought in the middle-order stalwart Craig Ervine.
After the new partnership added 25 runs, Masakadza’s impressive innings finally came to an end, in the 33rd over, when Pradeep did well to catch a lofted sweep at deep square leg.
The 33-year-old batsman had scored 111 off 98 balls before he departed.
Zimbabwe’s 200 came up in the 34th over, with the left-handers Ervine and Sean Williams looking to build on the good work done by Masakadza and Musakanda.
But the Sri Lankans did not allow the fourth-wicket partnership to gel.
Attempting to sweep the leg-break sensation Wanindu Hasaranga, Ervine missed and the umpire gave him out lbw – a decision which was unsuccessfully reviewed – for 16, which came off 24 balls; 206 for four after 34.5 overs.
After that setback, Williams and Malcolm Waller were content pushing it around for singles and twos, but still going at a good rate that kept a 300-plus score firmly in sight.
The Sri Lankans however soon regained the momentum when Williams, on 43, walked across the stumps, tried to hit Gunaratne behind square but completely missed the good-length ball that then knocked his leg stump.
Williams had faced 47 deliveries and scored two fours before his dismissal, which left Zimbabwe on 256 for five, with 32 balls and five wickets remaining.
In the next over, the tourists suffered another blow when the big-hitting Waller, who was expected to ramp it up in the final overs, missed Malinga’s low full toss and was given out lbw for 17, with one four and off 24 balls; 263 for six.
When it appeared as if Sri Lanka may restrict Zimbabwe to less than 300, PJ Moor clobbered 24 runs in a cameo blitzkrieg that only ended when he was caught off the 11th delivery he faced while attempting his third consecutive six.
Graeme Cremer came in with the score on 293 for seven after 48.5 overs, but he was immediately sent back to the pavilion, without scoring or facing a single ball, when he was run out after scampering down the pitch in anticipation of single from Sikandar Raza that however did not materialise.
Raza however took Malinga to the cleaners in the final over of the innings, smacking two fours and signing off with a beautiful six that sailed over long-on to leave him unbeaten on 25, off 17 balls, as Zimbabwe amassed 310 for eight.
With only one team, Zimbabwe, having successfully chased over 300 on Sri Lankan soil, the visitors seemed to have done enough to safeguard their record.
Yet there is very little to say about the way they attempted to defend their total.
In short, their bowling was ineffectively ordinary while the fielding was wretched, with a couple of dropped catches eventually contributing to the defeat.
Of course, that is not to take away anything from the way Sri Lanka chased down the seemingly daunting target.
They were simply unfazed and their intention was clear from the onset, as Niroshan Dickwella smashed the first ball of their innings, bowled by Mumba, through point for four.
The pattern was to continue and by the end of the seventh over, Sri Lanka had raced to 50 without losing a wicket.
By the time the opening stand of 229 was finally broken, victory was almost certain for the home side who still had a whole 13 overs and nine wickets in hand to get the 82 runs then needed to wrap it up.
Waller gave Zimbabwe the breakthrough they had toiled for all afternoon when he had Dickwella caught by Williams after the young batsman had scored his maiden century, a brilliant knock of 102, including 14 fours, off 116 balls.
Five deliveries later, his fellow opener Danushka Gunathilaka misjudged Williams and chopped it on to depart for an impressive 116, with 15 fours and one six, off 111 balls; 237 for two after 37.5 overs.
With two new batsmen, Kusal Mendis and Upul Tharanga, now in the middle, Zimbabwe had a chance to turn it around.
Who knows, had substitute fielder Chamunorwa Chibhabha not dropped the duo off consecutive balls bowled by Raza in the 43rd over, perhaps they could have done it.
But that is a big maybe.
Having survived dismissal, Tharanga (44 not out) and Mendis (28 not out) certainly enjoyed the second bite of the cherry to easily take their team over the line for an eight-wicket win, with 16 deliveries to spare.
“I thought we had enough runs on the board. We might have slowed down between the 30th and 40th (overs), but we picked up after that,” Zimbabwe captain Cremer said in a post-match interview.
He added: “It was a good wicket, and the (Sri Lanka) openers did take the game away from us. It didn’t help that we dropped a few chances. (We) didn’t start well with the ball either.
“We need to get runs on the board batting first, but 310 was enough, we just need to get better with the field. Our bowling was probably under par as well.”
With the win, Sri Lanka have taken a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
The two sides will meet again at the same venue for the fourth ODI on Saturday, with the last match of the series set for next Monday.
Castle Lager is the Zimbabwe senior men’s ODI shirt sponsor for the 2017/18 season.