July 10, 2017
Start time: 0945 local (0415GMT)
To find the most-recent bilateral series in which Zimbabwe pushed Sri Lanka to a decider, you’d have to go back decades, to a time before Sri Lanka won the World Cup, to before the island’s players were fully professional – all the way back to November 1994. Now, there is a chance the series that the Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews hoped could be won 5-0, may not be won at all. How did we get here?
Largely, the state of the series is owed to the skill and poise of Zimbabwe’s batsmen. In three of the four games so far, they either surpassed 300 or as was the case on Saturday, appeared capable of getting there, and comfortably achieved the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern target in any case. Encouragingly, they have not been reliant on any one batsman. In the first match, Solomon Mire’s maiden ton, coupled with Sean Williams’ supporting hand, propelled them to victory. In the matches since, Hamilton Masakadza and Craig Ervine have starred. Lasith Malinga may now be a diminished force, but for a side that had not seen a lot of him, Zimbabwe have defused Malinga with particular confidence. With one match to play, Malinga has two wickets in the series, at an average of 78.50 and an economy rate of 6.28.
Sri Lanka’s batting has been consistently good – their openers putting up back-to-back double-century stands for the first time in ODI history – but the attack’s lack of venom has been repeatedly exposed. Too often, boundary balls have spoiled tight overs and, at other times, bowlers have faltered when batsmen began to attack them.
As the series comes to its climax, Zimbabwe will hope that given Malinga’s troubles, Sri Lanka’s young attack will remain leaderless. Sri Lanka’s bowlers, meanwhile, need to find some way of squeezing life out of a Hambantota pitch that has been unkind to them.
Sri Lanka LWWLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Despite having played only three matches in the series, legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga tops the wicket-takers’ list, having claimed eight scalps at an average of 12.37. Hasaranga’s rise has been fairly sharp, after he debuted in the second ODI at Galle. Although he impressed in patches during Sri Lanka’s recent one-day Super Provincial Tournament, he was hardly the best bowler on show there. Instead, the selectors can take a little credit for picking a player on potential, with their hunch having proven correct so far.
Largely unheralded before this series, Solomon Mire has also been something of a revelation, hitting a match-winning century in the first ODI in Galle, and also contributing to their second win, with a boisterous 43 off 30 balls. He had showcased some of his ability in the Netherlands, during the List A series there, but it is in Sri Lanka that he has begun to click at the ODI level. Zimbabwe will hope they have found a long-term partner, in Mire, for Hamilton Masakadza at the top of the innings.
With debutant Asitha Fernando having proven expensive in his brief trips to the crease on Saturday, Sri Lanka may opt for the more experienced Nuwan Kulasekara in their seam attack. The top order is likely to stay in place.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Danushka Gunathilaka, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Upul Tharanga, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Wanindu Hasaranga, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Dushmantha Chameera, 10 Lakshan Sandakan, 11 Lasith Malinga,
Zimbabwe may opt for the same XI, given its success.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Solomon Mire, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Tarisai Musakanda, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Malcolm Waller, 8 Peter Moor (wk), 9 Graeme Cremer (capt.), 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Chris Mpofu
Pitch and conditions
Chances are there will be more runs on the Hambantota pitch, with it having been more batting-friendly than either side has expected so far. There is a slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon again, but the forecast looks better than it did for the fourth ODI.
Stats and trivia
Despite the series scoreline, the top three run-scorers (Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga) and the top three wicket-takers (Wanindu Hasaranga, Asela Gunaratne, Lakshan Sandakan) are all Sri Lanka players
If Zimbabwe win on Monday, it will be their first bilateral series win over a Test-playing opposition away from home, since they beat Bangladesh in Bangladesh in 2001
Hamilton Masakadza needs 50 to become the fifth Zimbabwe batsman to 5000 ODI runs
“The pressure is more on them because they expected to beat us. We won’t take any pressure into the final game. The confidence is pretty high for us.” Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer
“Not just Malinga, but as a bowling group we have to all cop the blame rather than pointing the finger at one person.”
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews is unwilling to pin Sri Lanka’s bowling problems on a misfiring Malinga