Courtesy: International Cricket Council
What one Mendis began, another finished as Sri Lanka handed Zimbabwe a thumping 82-run loss at the Mahinda Rajapaka International Cricket Stadium. Brendan Taylor was quite categorical about his team’s chances a day before the tournament opener. “If we bat, bowl and field to our potential, we’ll give ourselves half a chance of beating Sri Lanka,” he said, and those words turned out to be prophetic in the worst possible way. After putting Sri Lanka in, Zimbabwe bowled the wrong areas, had a complete shocker on the field and never quite recovered.
If Jeevan Mendis injected Sri Lanka’s batting with verve, it was Ajantha Mendis, playing his first match in eight months after recovering from a back injury, who ensured that Zimbabwe performed no batting miracles.
Dilshan Munaweera, making his Twenty20 International debut, opened with Tillakaratne Dilshan, and threw his bat at almost everything. Munaweera swished and missed early on while Dilshan was more selective and thereby effective.
As early as the fourth over, there were indications of the kind of evening it would be for Zimbabwe when a run-out opportunity was fluffed. In the sixth over, Malcolm Waller dropped the first of two catches, putting down a sitter at midwicket off Munaweera. Fortunately for Waller, Munaweera did not do much damage, setting off for an imaginary single, only to be sent back. He lost his bat mid-pitch and was comfortably short.
Zimbabwe then had a golden chance to give Sri Lanka a scare when Mahela Jayawardene, fresh at the crease, seemed to struggle to pick the legspin of Graeme Cremer. Trapped plumb in front, Jayawardene only got as far as the thirty-yard circle when Rod Tucker, the umpire, motioned for the batsman to stay on as he checked for a no-ball. Sure enough, Cremer had cut the side crease, and Jayawardene was reprieved.
There was some consolation for Cremer when Dilshan (39) shaped to cut and was caught behind, bringing Kumar Sangakkara and Jayawardene together with the score on 75 for two. Jayawardene, who had flirted with danger more than once, got into a mix-up with his good friend, and Sri Lanka slipped to 82 for three.
Zimbabwe then got themselves back into the game, as Sangakkara was forced to consolidate in the company of Jeevan. At the end of 15 overs, Sri Lanka had reached only 120, but by then the enterprising duo of Sangakkara and Jeevan were well set.
Attacking the ball constantly and running hard between the wickets, Sangakkara protected the partnership, keeping the tempo without attempting any outrageous shots. Mendis was fluent against spin and pace, and cut loose with a mowed sweep of Cremer that was quickly followed by a biff over long-off. Elton Chigumbura then found himself at the receiving end, flicked for a flat six over the long boundary over square-leg and then tickled fine for a boundary.
When Sangakkara (44) finally fell, run out trying to retain the strike in the final over, his runs had come at the surprisingly high strike-rate of 169.33, given that he only managed two fours and a six. The fourth-wicket partnership of 94 had all but taken the game away from Zimbabwe. Mendis, unbeaten on a 30-ball 43, ensured that Sri Lanka ended on 182 for four, a score that hardly looked likely earlier in the innings.
Zimbabwe’s chances of putting up a fight rested on one of the top order playing the innings of his life, but that’s not the easiest thing to do against a spin bowler with a bagful of tricks. After doing the hard work of seeing off Lasith Malinga, Vusi Sibanda played down the wrong line to Ajantha and had his middle stump pegged back. Off the next ball, Taylor overbalanced just a fraction, and when the ball turned enough to beat the outside edge, Sangakkara whipped the bails off in a flash.
Ajantha was denied the hat-trick, but a back-of-the-hand delivery was good enough to castle Hamilton Masakadza. Ajantha’s first spell read 2-1-3-3, and it only got better by the time the game ran out. Zimbabwe’s lower order had no answer to him and his figures of six for eight seriously improved on his career-best six for 16, against Australia at Pallekele in 2011. Combined, Ajantha and Jeevan Mendis returned nine for 32 as Zimbabwe imploded to 100 all out.