Lanka on the verge of first ODI series win in two years

Sri Lanka are on the verge of winning their first One-Day International series since November 2015 when they take on Zimbabwe in the fourth match of a five-match series at Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Sooriyawewa today.

Sri Lanka’s last win in a bilateral ODI series against a full member was in November 2015 if their win over Ireland (who were recently granted full ICC membership) in June 2016 is not to be seriously considered.

Since that win over West Indies at home Sri Lanka has struggled to perform consistently in this format and it shows in their current rankings where they are placed eighth and struggling to avoid qualifying for the 2019 Cricket World Cup where only the top eight ranked teams automatically qualify and, the teams ranked lower than eight will have to come through a qualifying tournament.

A series win over Zimbabwe who are ranked lower than Sri Lanka will not fetch them many points but help them to marginally improve their points rankings as only three points separate Sri Lanka and seventh and sixth placed Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Today’s game is a must-win for Zimbabwe if they are to keep the series alive. They began on a high chasing down the highest total ever by a winning team in Sri Lanka – 317 in the first ODI at Galle by scoring 322-4, but have been outplayed in the next two matches with Sri Lanka raising their bar to win by seven wickets and by eight wickets.

“It’s very important for us to win this series. I don’t want any complacency creeping in and we want to finish it off,” said Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews.

“What we need is consistency. We can’t score 300 everyday. We can lose one or two games, but if we bat well every day that’s great. Some days we don’t do well. If we want to improve we need to be consistent,” he said.

Mathews praised the batting efforts of openers Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka who made their maiden ODI centuries in laying the foundation for Sri Lanka’s successful run chase of 311 with a double century partnership.

“It’s very pleasing to see the way they batted. Very encouraging to see them not getting 50s and 60s and throwing it away. They did exactly what the team wanted. Pity they couldn’t finish it through, but that was good job,” said Mathews.

“We have backed him to bat the way he wants. We have told him that when he gets a 30 or 40 to bat long and everyone will benefit. It looks like everyone is learning. Niroshan is a fearless cricketer and he wants to take on all the bowlers, great attitude to have.”

With the crosswinds and a flat batting pitch the bowlers of both sides had a tough day on Thursday. The conditions are not expected to change today and another high scoring game is on the cards.

Sri Lanka will be without Nuwan Pradeep their most consistent bowler in the series although his efforts are not reflected by the figures. Pradeep has strained his right quadricep during the seventh over of the 3rd ODI on Thursday and has been ruled out of the series. Veteran fast bowler Nuwan Kulasekara has been drafted into the squad in his place along with another young fast bowler Asitha Fernando who impressed at the recently concluded Super Provincial tournament with 12 wickets in 6 games at 30.75. Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer blamed his bowlers for allowing Sri Lanka chase down 311 and win.

“On the bowling side we need to bowl better. I thought we bowled both sides of the wicket. We needed to go shorter or fuller. There’s not much you can change in one day. We will keep positives and try and stay positive. Try and restrict them,” said Cremer.

Zimbabwe were also let down by some crucial catches being dropped where Dickwella and Gunathilaka were let off early within the space of two balls. The positive for them was the return to form of opener Hamilton Masakadza who scored his fifth ODI century and laid the foundation for Zimbabwe’s total which in the end proved to be insufficient. – ST

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