WHEN Zimbabwe usurped a formidable Australian side in the 1983 World Cup, it was hailed by fans and experts alike. When the African country reached the Super Six stage of the 1999 World Cup, it was celebrated again. By then Zimbabwe had already won an overseas Test series against Pakistan in 1998-99.
Despite causing a few ripples in the cricketing landscape, Zimbabwe found itself in the midst of a crisis, as due to political upheaval and poor administration, there was an exodus of players. After a long time, they seem to be finding a way out of tunnel of darkness into the land of light. The African nation is on the verge of winning their first ever ODI series against Sri Lanka, after they drew the five-match rubber at 2-2, with a well-earned four-wicket victory over the hosts in Hambantota.
Zimbabwe's sterling show in the series has been built on significant contributions made by their batsmen. Hamilton Masakadza, Solomon Mire, Sean Williams, Craig Ervine, Malcolm Waller and Sikandar Raza have all been among the runs. The point can be capsulised by Zimbabwe chasing down a target in excess of 300 in the first game and overhauling a target of 219 in just 29.5 overs (via DLS Method) in the fourth ODI. The only area of concern was Ervine's relatively poor form. However, the experienced batsman composed a 55-ball 69 to steer the side home in the fourth match.
Zimbabwe, though, would be a tad worried about their inability to make regular incisions on flat decks. Only Tendai Chatara has taken more than three wickets (five scalps) for the visitors in the series so far. The lack of penetration on the bowling front has hurt Zimbabwe and that can be illustrated by Sri Lanka chasing down a target of 311 for the loss of just two wickets in the third game. As Richard Ngarava, Wellington Masakadza and Carl Mumba are relatively inexperienced, the think-tank perhaps would continue with the same side.
Their opponents, Sri Lanka, too have been let down by their bowlers. Wanindu Hasaranga, who picked up a sensational hat-trick on his ODI debut in the second game, Asela Gunaratne and Lakshan Sandakan have all chipped in with wickets from time to time, but they have lacked an attack leader. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka have dropped a slew of catches during the series. After the fourth ODI, Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankan captain, also noted that they have been "disappointing in the field".
On a positive note, Upul Tharanga has been in terrific form, composing 220 runs so far. Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Mathews too have made useful contributions. It would be interesting to see whether the Sri Lankan camp will look to bat first if they win the toss in the final game as all four matches have been won by the team batting second till now.
What to expect: Historically, the track in Hambantota favours the batsmen. Since the first ever ODI was played at the stadium in 2011, there have been nine totals in excess of over 300. Barring a few clouds, the weather looks promising for tomorrow.
Sri Lanka: Asitha Fernando, the 19-year-old pacer, replaced the injured Nuwan Pradeep for the fourth game. However, for the crucial fifth ODI, the hosts perhaps could opt for the experience of Nuwan Kulasekara.
Zimbabwe: The visitors are set to play the same side, as they seem to lack the penetration in the bowling department to make changes.
"The boards had decided they were not going to use it. If we had the lights, the full quota might have been bowled and it could have gone either way. If the facility is there, we would like to use it. It's up to SLC to decide and the players have nothing to do with it" - noted Angelo Mathews after Sri Lanka lost the fourth ODI.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews(c), Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dickwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne, Wanidu Hasaranga, Akila Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Asitha Fernando and Lahiru Kumara.
Zimbabwe: Solomon Mire, Hamilton Masakadza, Ryan Burl, Graeme Cremer(c), Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Peter Moor, Sikandar Raza, Tendai Chatara, Chris Mpofu, Donald Tiripano, Richard Ngarava, Malcolm Waller, Chamu Chibhabha, Tarisai Musakanda and Carl Mumba.