Sikandar Raza in on strike, Wanindu Hasaranga is in his seventh over as Zimbabwe need six more runs to win. Hasaranga tosses it up, and Raza shimmies down the track and hits it over long-off. He hasn’t middle it, but has hit that with the wind. Is it going to be a six or the fielder getting under will get? Hang on, the ball has cleared the boundary and it’s a six! Zimbabwean dugout is celebrating this dazzling win and the elation on their faces tells you how big it is!
So, what did Zimbabwe achieve? Well, the list is going to be a bit long. At first, they ended their 9-year old drought of not winning an ODI series; they have also won an away ODI series 16 years against a Test playing nation. Second, they returned from the dead and won the series by 3-2. Third, this is the first time Zimbabwe have ever won a five-match ODI series on foreign soil. Fourth, this is also their first ODI series win in Sri Lanka. Well, this sum up the importance of how big this win is and why this is historic?
The last time Zimbabwe won any ODI series away was against Kenya way back in 2009. Prior to the start of this ODI series, a Zimbabwean fan could only have dreamt of these things happening. But now it’s an incredible reality. Zimbabwe punched above their weight and this was certainly one of the most awe-inspiring comebacks in the history of ODI series.
The entire series saw runs being scored heavily. In fact, inside a week after the series started, targets of 300 above was chased on a couple of occasions by both the teams. Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe were equally placed after the fourth ODI, which the latter won by four wickets (D/L method). The fifth and the ultimate ODI was a virtual final and the pressure was immense on both the teams.
Spirited Zimbabwe kicked off this tournament by chasing down a massive target of 317 in the series opener. Sikander Raza finished off the game in style as he smashed a six to carry the team over the line. This win not only gave them a lead but also infused plethora of confidence of winning the series. For an 11th rank ODI side, it was a massive achievement to beat Sri Lanka, especially in a run-chase. Sri Lanka then bounced back emphatically in the next two games and took a healthy lead of 2-1. The onus of making a comeback was now on Zimbabwe as a series win looked achievable for Sri Lanka from this juncture.
Zimbabwe had a mountain to climb and overcome a huge mental barrier in order to make a comeback. Sri Lanka set a challenging target of 301 for Zimbabwe to chase in the fourth ODI. But the target was revised to 219 from 31 overs after the incessant rains interrupted the game. Zimbabwe chased down the target with ease riding on Solomon Mire and Craig Ervine’s prolific run.
Now came the final leg of the tournament, the final ODI at Hambantota on Monday. Their bowlers did a fantastic job in restricting Sri Lanka to 203 in 50 overs. They kept chipping wickets at regular intervals and Sri Lanka were precariously placed at 153 for the loss of 8 wickets inside 42 overs at one stage. But a crucial partnership between Asela Gunaratne and Dushmantha Chameera saw them breach the 200-run mark.
Graeme Cremer led the side by an example with two wickets to his name while Sikandar Raza was the pick of the bowlers by bagging three. Zimbabwean openers came out hard and ensured the side didn’t fumble while chasing a modest total. They put up a 92-runs stand at the top and built a solid platform. When Hamilton Masakadza was dismissed on 73, Zimbabwe just needed 67 runs from 26 overs with nine wickets to spare.
When everyone thought that the game was almost over for Sri Lanka, Akila Dananjaya injected energy and brought his side back into the game. He got rid of three key Zimbabwean batsmen in his three overs after which, Lasith Malinga dismissed Malcolm Waller. When Dananjaya scalped his fourth wicket in the form of Peter Moor, Zimbabwe were certainly in hot water with 29 runs needed to win and Sri Lanka tightening the noose around them.
Sikandar Raza once again rescued the Zimbabwean ship and was equally supported by skipper Cremer from the other end. The duo ensured Zimbabwe didn’t lose a wicket and gun down the target.
Beating Sri Lanka in their backyard is not everyone’s cup of tea. But, Zimbabwe did the unexpected and added more agony on the rebuilding Sri Lankan side. This is now the third series for Sri Lanka at home without a win, which is certainly not a good sign. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, can take this win as a turning point in their cricketing career. Make no mistake, although Sri Lanka may be undergoing a transition phase but they have a side that can wreak havoc if clicks.
Sri Lanka beat India comprehensively in the ICC Champions Trophy game, which was a massive upset in the tournament. For Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka was always going to be a tough nut to crack. For an 11th ranked ODI side like Zimbabwe, it’s a massive achievement. This day will be cherished for a while by the Zimbabwean fans. The side has gained momentum with this win and will be interesting to see how they fare in the upcoming series. As of now, it’s time for celebration for Zimbabwe as they have risen to new heights after this win.