A trio of half-centuries helped Zimbabwe overcome a fourth-ball wicket against Sri Lanka, before a 145-run partnership helped Sri Lanka do the same.
Sri Lanka 260/5 (Madushka 109*, Fernando 68) beat Zimbabwe 259/4 (J Schadendorf 74, M Shumba 62*, D Mlambo 52) by five wickets with 5.3 overs remaining
Up until today, Zimbabwe’s tournament had followed a set pattern – good against the Associates, awful against the Full Members, with 10- and seven-wicket wins against Papua New Guinea and Namibia bookending losses by the same margins against India and Australia, with the African side making a combined 288/20 across both games. And when they lost their first wicket without scoring against Sri Lanka after just four balls, it appeared the pattern would continue. But although they lost today, it was a much-improved performance, with Sri Lanka made to work hard for their eventual five-wicket victory.
After that early setback, Zimbabwe rallied to put on 259/4 thanks to a trio of contrasting half-centuries from their top five.
The first came from opener Donald Mlambo, who, after facing his first ball with his side already one down, decided to drop anchor and provide some ballast for his side. It wasn’t quick, and it was rarely pretty, but it was exactly what his was needed to show that the Sri Lankan attack, though capable, wasn’t to be feared.
The second and best of the performances was made by Jayden Schadendorf, whose 74 was equal parts fluent, enterprising, and belligerent and often all at once. It was checkpointed by four sixes, the second of which brought up his fifty, and though he fell caught at fine leg trying to hit a fifth, by then he’d done his job.
The third came from Milton Shumba, who immediately looked to attack, taking just 45 balls to reach his half-century and providing the late surge which took his side past 250.
The ease with which Zimbabwe built partnerships each time should worry Sri Lanka, with their attack looking largely toothless apart from with the new ball, but they restricted Zimbabwe well enough up at the beginning of the innings to leave them still in with a chance.
Even that however seemed to be disappearing when Zimbabwe struck twice within the first seven balls of the innings to reduce Sri Lanka to 4/2, and their prospects shrunk even further when two promising partnerships were cut short.
Sri Lanka were 61/4 and in trouble. But from watching the way Nishan Madushka and Nawanidu Fernando batted, you wouldn't have known. The pair cruised through their 143-run partnership, rotating the strike, taking the boundaries that were on offer, and looking almost entirely untroubled throughout.
There was one moment of danger as Madushka was dropped by Milton Shumba at point when Sri Lanka had less than 150 on the board. A dismissal then would have left the game in the balance, and the drop deflated Zimbabwe.
Even the eventual end of the partnership - Fernando holed out to long-on for 68 - brought no respite, Ashen Bandara striking his first ball for four, hardly seeming someone new to the crease. Zimbabwe were better today than they have been. But still Sri Lanka were too good.
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