Mendis, Tharanga steer Sri Lanka to title


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Sri Lanka followed a clinical display in the field with steady middle-order batting to chase down 161 with 75 balls to spare and complete a convincing six-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in the tri-series final. Kusal Mendis starred with the bat, hitting ten fours in his sparkling 57, to lead Sri Lanka’s robust recovery after they had slipped to 42 for 3.

Mendis was supported by Upul Tharanga in a 75-run fourth-wicket partnership that put the visitors firmly on course for the win. While Tharanga was decidedly scratchy early on, and survived a couple of chances, he took over the mantle after Mendis departed. He wrapped up proceedings by clubbing a four and a six to finish on 57 not out and, more importantly, put the finishing touches on Sri Lanka’s successful campaign in his first series as captain.

Zimbabwe’s slump to 160 after opting to bat on a decent Bulawayo track was largely a product of their own failings. Poor shot selection left them chasing the game from an early stage. But the dubious choices began even before a ball was bowled, with the omission of their regular openers in the series, Chamu Chibhabha and Brian Chari.

That forced Hamilton Masakadza and Peter Moor to fill the opening slots. Moor, in particular, looked uncomfortable with the promotion, and it was not long before he scooped an innocuous straight delivery from Suranga Lakmal to gift an easy catch to midwicket. Masakadza followed him back soon thereafter when he was trapped in front by a Nuwan Kulasekara in-dipper.

Rain interrupted play with Zimbabwe on 20 for 2 in 5.1 overs, but their real troubles began almost an hour after the resumption. A promising third-wicket partnership of 53 between debutant Tarisai Musakanda and Craig Ervine ended when Ervine closed his bat face early to give the simplest of return catches to legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay. Musakanda was busy and energetic during his 36 off 37, but he perished to the same bowler, reaching for a ball that was leaving him to nick to first slip. Then Sikandar Raza missed an attempted sweep by a big margin and Zimbabwe were 89 for 5.

They were not yet done shooting themselves in the foot, though. Malcolm Waller and Sean Williams both threw away decent starts with ugly, cross-batted slogs that went high in the air. The tail did not offer much resistance and Zimbabwe were bowled out in 36.3 overs on a pitch that had not offered anything out of the ordinary to the bowlers.

That said, Sri Lanka turned out a professional performance with the ball and in the field. Kulasekara and Lakmal bowled with discipline with the new ball to tie down the batsmen from the outset. Vandersay, brought in to replace Nuwan Pradeep, then extracted decent turn and exposed the home team’s weakness against spin. Along with left-arm spinner Sachith Pathirana, he pegged Zimbabwe back in the middle overs. The two spinners took 5 for 76 in 17 overs between them, helped by a screamer of a catch by Mendis at short cover to get rid of Graeme Cremer. Asela Gunaratne then cleaned up the tail, finishing with 3 for 10.

When the sides came back out to begin the second innings before the lunch interval, Brian Vitori effected a wobble with three early wickets. He pinned Dhananjaya de Silva lbw for a golden duck and snuck one between Niroshan Dickwella’s bat and pad to splay his stumps. Then, Kusal Perera slogged him only as far as Waller at mid-on, leaving Sri Lanka on 42 for 3.

But Mendis and Tharanga steadied the chase after the break, despite the latter’s early struggles. Tharanga found it difficult to rotate the strike against spin and was reprieved on 18 when Masakadza spilled a tough chance at short midwicket. He survived through it all, though, while Mendis unfurled a number of glorious cover drives at the other end. By the time Mendis holed out to Williams at deep square leg, Sri Lanka were on course for a thumping win, and it was Tharanga who took them past the finish line in style.

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