Sri Lanka V Zimbabwe, Only Test: Dickwella, Gunaratne Star In Record Chase

A lively 121-run stand for the sixth wicket between Asela Gunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella was the centerpiece of a great escape for the hosts, and a sapping defeat for a daring Zimbabwe side.

Zimbabwe had never beaten Sri Lanka, of course, but also, the 388 they had set had also never been chased either by Sri Lanka, or by anyone on the island. In the end, Sri Lanka achieved the target with four wickets in hand - Gunaratne having prodded his team sensibly onward. He was on 80 when the winning runs were hit. Dickwella had made 81. Graeme Cremer, who had raised Zimbabwe's hopes when he dismissed both Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews within the first hour of play, was left with four wickets to his name, as his team failed to claim the chances that might have punctured Sri Lanka's resurgence. Once the initial disappointment fades, however, Zimbabwe may reflect that they have played with incredible courage here, and at least have that ODI series trophy to take home with them.

Three denied or missed wicket opportunities, all of them involving wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva, will haunt Zimbabwe. First, with Dickwella on 37 and Sri Lanka on 237 for 5, Chakabva whipped off the bails and appealed, after Dickwella had overbalanced, missing a ball from Sikandar Raza. It was a close decision: no part of the crease was visible behind Dickwella's boot. However, no part of the boot appeared to be behind the crease either, so on balance Dickwella should have been given out. But third umpire Chettithody Shamshuddin would rule him not out, and Dickwella would go on produce one of the game's definitive performances.

Zimbabwe should have had Dickwella again on 63, when Sean Williams induced an edge with a sliding delivery, only for Chakabva - who had kept immaculately until then - to fumble the chance. Sri Lanka had at the time been 102 runs from the target. Finally, after Dickwella had eventually been dismissed, Gunaratne would also be reprieved by Chakabva. Running down the track at Cremer on 54, Gunaratne failed to reach the pitch of the ball, and had it turn and beat him down the leg side. Chakabva could not gather cleanly, and Gunaratne made it back into the crease. Had he been out at that point, Sri Lanka would have been seven down, with Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera new at the crease, 50 runs still to get.

But aside from that indiscretion, Gunaratne was a calming influence on the chase. He was always on the lookout for risk-free runs, rarely failing to take the most sensible option on offer, hitting boundaries only off the wayward balls, and running hard for his partner - strained hamstring and all. Where others were largely reliant on the sweep for their runs, Gunaratne also had in his repertoire the short-arm pull, which could fetch him runs in a wide arc between midwicket and fine leg. While he was at the crease, there was a steadiness to the chase.

Not for Dickwella, however, was restraint or control. He swept and reverse-swept merrily, often venturing down the pitch to the spinners, and getting pad or boot to ball on the occasions he could not hit it with his bat. His innings featured only six fours, but that is partly because the energy and ambition he brought to the crease forced Zimbabwe to post more men on the fence than they would ideally have liked. Even before lunch, the rhythm with which Zimbabwe's bowlers had operated in the early overs, seemed slightly upset.

As the stand with Gunaratne grew after the break, nerves appeared to enter Zimbabwe's game for the first time in two days. Dickwella brought up his fifty off the 69th delivery he faced, clubbing Chris Mpofu to the midwicket fence. He slowed down after the milestone, but had nevertheless changed the outlook of the match. He was caught behind off the glove attempting to reverse-sweep Sean Williams, but Sri Lanka needed only 64 at that stage, and in the end, no further wickets fell. Dilruwan Perera contributed a shaky 29. It would be enough.

But how Zimbabwe had shaken Sri Lanka in the morning. Mendis, who had batted with such assurance on day four, attempted to sweep a wide and full Cremer delivery, and wound up sending a top edge to mid-on. That was only the sixth over of the day. When Angelo Mathews then chipped a return catch to Cremer eight overs later, with 185 runs still to get, the chase was in crisis. Zimbabwe ringed the new men, and only an innings as risk-riddled as Dickwella's could loosen their grip on this game.

Relief will be Sri Lanka's first emotion to the victory, but perhaps there will also be contentment that three of their less experienced players played important roles in the chase. Gunaratne and Dickwella have 12 Tests between them, and the only other man to cross fifty was 22-year old Mendis. While the bowling attack requires substantial inspection, the batting, at least appears in half-decent shape.


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