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Centuries from the opening pair of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga and their partnership of 282 powered Sri Lanka to a 139 run win in their penultimate Group A match against Zimbabwe at Kandy. The two points garnered took Sri Lanka to the top of their Group and guaranteed them a place in the quarter-finals, while the defeat for Zimbabwe all but ends their World Cup campaign. Batting first, Sri Lanka posted 327 runs for the loss of 6 wickets with Dilshan scoring 144 and Tharanga 133. Zimbabwe in their reply were rattled out for 188 with Dilshan taking a remarkable 4-4, while Muralitharan picked up 3-34. Zimbabwe's only bright spark of the day was a well made 80 from opener Brendan Taylor, who kept his side in the game in the early exchanges.
Zimbabwe won the toss and slightly surprisingly invited Sri Lanka to make first use of what looked like a very flat deck at Kandy. The Lankans had tweaked their side considerably for this game, dropping the spin-assault they had planned for Australia in favour of an out and out seam attack. Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis were both benched with Nuwan Kulasekara and Thisara Perera coming into the playing eleven. Zimbabwe meanwhile brought in a bowler for a batsman as Chris Mpofu came in for Charles Coventry, while Regis Chakabva took the place of the injured Sean Williams.
Sri Lanka got off to a lightning start with Dilshan taking Tinashe Panyangara for 18 runs in the second over. Zimbabwe turned to spin as early as the 5th over, but Ray Price conceded a boundary in each of his first three overs. Mpofu changed ends, but there was no respite for the bowlers as Sri Lanka raced to 77 in the first powerplay. The bowling powerplay was delayed by an over, but it made little difference as the openers continued to plunder the runs. While neither man was in the same league as a Sanath Jayasuriya, the run flow was persistent with both scoring at better than a run a ball.
Prosper Utseya and Ray Price pulled things back considerably in the bowling powerplay with only 15 runs scored in that 5 over spell. While the bowling itself was indeed better, the batsmen were really setting themselves up for a long innings, and Dilshan brought up his 50 in the 15th over off 43 deliveries. Tharanga took his time getting to the landmark, and the left hander was struggling to rotate the strike. He took 67 deliveries to get to 50, but with Dilshan keeping up a good scoring rate at the other end, the partnership continued to blossom.
Dilshan brought up his 9th ODI hundred in the 31st over and a couple of overs later the pair achieved the highest opening stand in World Cup history, 196, when Tharanga hit Panyangara for a boundary to square leg.
While the partnership continued to go great guns, the scoring rate was steadily decreasing, and Sri Lanka ran the risk of not taking advantage of the platform set, by delaying the charge. They finally took the batting powerplay in the 41st over with the score at 233 for no loss.
Tharanga brought up his 10th one-day ton with a four through the covers and celebrated by hitting five more boundaries in the next 3 overs. He finally perished while attempting to clear the in-field in the final over of the powerplay, but not before he had amassed 133 from 141 balls. The partnership was finally broken with the score at 282 and fell just 4 runs shy of the ODI record for the first wicket, incidentally also held by Tharanga with the aforementioned Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jayasuriya.
Sri Lanka went for broke in the last 5 overs and added 43 runs for the loss of an additional 5 wickets to finish at 327/6. Dilshan fell to Utseya for 144 while Chris Mpofu was the beneficiary of the hit out or get out approach of the Lankans as he ended with 4 wickets for 62 runs from 7 overs.
Zimbabwe had no choice but to go for broke in their response, with their fate in the World Cup hanging on the outcome of this game. Brendan Taylor led the charge as the Zimbabwe openers attempted to match the pace set by their Sri Lankan counterparts. They added 116 runs for the opening wicket, with Regis Chakabva, in his new avatar as opener playing the sheet anchor while Taylor did the bulk of the scoring. The stand was finally broken by the master Muttiah Muralitharan, who playing for the last time in his hometown of Kandy, dismissed Chakabva (35) with a gorgeous doosra that rattled the woodwork.
Thereafter, things went downhill for Zimbabwe as Tatenda Taibu fell for 4 to a brilliant catch by Kumar Sangakkara behind the wicket, where the keeper had been forced to change his direction at the last minute. Angelo Mathews then struck a second time in successive overs to send back Taylor for 80, caught by Mahela Jayawardene at short midwicket.
Taylor's dismissal marked the end of Zimbabwe's challenge as they slipped to 156/6 in the 30th over. Dilshan should have got a hat-trick when he knocked over Craig Ervine and Greg Lamb off successive deliveries, but Mahela Jayawardene dropped Graeme Cremer on the hat-trick ball. Elton Chigumbura was then dropped a couple of deliveries later off Lasith Malinga to give Zimbabwe some temporary respite.
The tail-enders took the score along to 188 before Muralitharan bade adieu to his adoring fans in the perfect fashion, knocking over Chris Mpofu to wrap up the innings.
Zimbabwe have one last shot at trying to make the quarter-finals when they take on another Asian giant in Pakistan on Monday, 14th March. A win for the Africans in that game could give their slender hopes of survival a boost, provided other results also go their way. Sri Lanka, meanwhile have a short holiday in their future, before they head to the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai for their final game of the group stages against New Zealand on Friday, 18th March.
Zimbabwe: Brendan Taylor, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Craig Ervine, Elton Chigumbura (c), Regis Chakabva, Greg Lamb, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer, Ray Price, Tinashe Panyangara, Chris Mpofu.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan.
Sri Lanka 327/6 (50 overs, 6.54rpo)
Tillakaratne Dilshan 144 (131) Chris Mpofu 4-52
Upul Tharanga 133 (141) Ray Price 1-46
Zimbabwe 188 all out (39 overs, 4.82rpo)
Brendan Taylor 80 (72) T Dilshan 4-4
Regis Chakabva 35 (61) M Muralitharan 3-34
File Photograph Copyright: ICC World T20
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