The last time Zimbabwe were in Sri Lanka for a bilateral series, it was way back in 1998, and the result was a 3-0 series sweep by the home side.
Nearly two decades later, Zimbabwe arrived in Sri Lanka last month with many expecting them to put on a fight but eventually roll over as they had all those years ago.
Come Monday (July 10), Zimbabwe will have their chance to prove the naysayers wrong when they face the home side in the series-deciding fifth and final One-Day International at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International stadium in Hambantota.
After Graeme Cremer’s men stunned the hosts with a fine win in the opener, Sri Lanka struck back with comprehensive victories in subsequent games. And after compiling 300 in the fourth ODI, Angelo Mathews and Co would have fancied an early finish to the series. As fate would have it, rain forced a revision of the target to 219 from 31 overs.
It wasn’t an easy task but Zimbabwe didn’t have the daunting 300-mark to pay heed to during the run chase, and sure enough they scaled the score in 29.2 overs.
With the series on the line, Zimbabwe, who have conceded 300 plus scores on three occasions in the first four matches, will need to address their bowling department and hope their batting clicks once again.
A good mix of experience and youth has kept them abreast with their opposition, but they’ll need someone to don the role of anchor if the middle order does get exposed. They’ve failed to capitalise on the base laid by their top order a fair few times, and in a crunch game that could be the difference between a trophy and a ‘well fought’.
Sri Lanka is a side in transition and the process has been all too evident during the course of this series. But to their credit, they have identified some genuine talent, and Niroshan Dickwella is certainly one of them. The young left-hand wicketkeeper-batsman has scored centuries in successive games, and has been part of two double-hundred partnerships with Danushka Gunathilaka, another young talent.
Wanindu Hasaranga, the leg-spinner, is another serious contender for a permanent spot in the side after picking up eight wickets in three games.
Despite the lack of experience as a unit, Sri Lanka aren’t looking too shabby, but if Zimbabwe do triumph, their rebuilding process might just take another hit.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dikwella (wk), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne, Wanidu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Akila Dananjaya, Nuwan Pradeep Fernando, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Madushanka.
Zimbabwe: Graeme Cremer (capt), Solomon Mire, Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine, Sean Williams, Ryan Burl, Peter Moor (wk), Sikandar Raza Butt, Tendai Chatara, Christ Mpofu, Donald Tiripano, Richard Ngarava, Wellington Masakadza, Malcolm Waller, Chamu Chibhabha, Tarisai Musakanda.