The quality of the match was befitting of an occasion that the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) failed to commemorate to the satisfaction of the spectators, as Zimbabwe brought the tri-series to life by defeating the more-fancied Sri Lanka by 12 runs yesterday in an exciting match that was also the hundredth ODI hosted by the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur.
The BCB deemed it fit not to include Bangladesh on the momentous occasion of Mirpur becoming the fastest venue to the mark, but it was fitting that Zimbabwe -- who played the first match in this venue against Bangladesh on December 8, 2006 -- issued a reminder of their prowess through a team effort with Sikandar Raza putting in a star turn with an unbeaten 67-ball 81, a wicket and two crucial catches.
The closeness of the match -- Thisara Perera's late-innings blitzkrieg of 64 off 37 balls almost clinched it for Sri Lanka -- also bodes well for the triangular tournament after a seemingly underprepared Zimbabwe crashed to a one-sided eight-wicket defeat to Bangladesh in the first match on Monday. Zimbabwe showed, even though they got the tough end of conditions as they had to bowl in dew-soaked conditions, that their bowling has enough discipline to overcome disadvantages.
There was added significance to the match as it was the first international that Sri Lanka played under new coach Chandika Hathurusingha, who had only last October quit his post as Bangladesh head coach after a successful three-year association with the Tigers. It will irk Hathurusingha that his charges were outdone by a lower-ranked team in his first match in charge, that too in the country he left two years before his contract was due to expire.
Sri Lanka seemed out of the chase of 291 when Asela Gunaratne was stumped off skipper Graeme Cremer, leaving the score on 194 for six in the 36th over, but then Thisara Perera did what he does best and set the cat among the pigeons with his five fours and three sixes.
He built a 47-run partnership with Akila Dananjaya after the departure of Wanindu Hasaranga on 224, but Dananjaya's departure, caught off Tendai Chatara in the 45th over, put the onus squarely on Perera.
With 24 needed off 24 balls, he hit his third six before holing out to Raza off a Chatara full toss with the score on 275, and just three runs later Chatara bagged his fourth scalp by having Dushmantha Chameera caught at point to seal hard-fought win -- their third on the trot over Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's chase got off to a fast start from openers Kusal Perera, whose punchy left-handed batting is reminiscent of explosive former Sri Lanka batsman Sanath Jayasuriya, and Upul Tharanga but there was a frenzied air to their batting which caught up with the latter when he was caught at mid-on off Kyle Jarvis in the sixth over with the score on 46. One wicket brought another as Kusal Mendis was caught off Cremer for a duck in the next over.
Skipper Angelo Mathews came in and displayed the intent to bat long, scoring just three off the first 21 balls. Kusal Perera reached his 50 off 32 balls but was dropped twice -- first by Solomon Mire at 57 and then off a return catch by Cremer on 77 -- before trying one shot too many and being caught off Raza at short fine leg, ending an 85-run stand with the captain. Blessing Muzarabani then grabbed his first wicket when Raza, again, pulled off affine diving catch at midwicket to get rid of Mathews for 42. Things started to turn grim for Sri Lanka when Dinesh Chandimal was bowled by Jarvis in the 34th over with the score on 181.
Earlier, it was evident that Zimbabwe had historically beaten Sri Lanka in their own den last summer as the southern African nation brushed aside an indifferent display in the opener to put up a fighting 290 for six after being asked to bat first. The early impetus was provided by an accomplished 83-ball 73 from Hamilton Masakadza, who incidentally was also part of the team that played the first ODI in Mirpur in 2006.
There were supporting hands from Somon Mire (34 off 37) and Brendan Taylor (38 off 51), but after Masakadza's dismissal when he was third out, caught off the ultra-slow bowling of Gunaratne in the 28th over with the score on 142, it was all Raza. The right-hander, who knows the ground very well having been one of the few bright spots in Chittagong Vikings' dismal campaign in the recent BPL, hit eight boundaries and a six in his quickfire innings and helped realise 76 runs in the last 10 overs. It staged the stage for a fitting match to celebrate 100 ODIs at Mirpur, although there were very few spectators to witness it.