Story by Raynald Ngwarati
IT is set to be a great welcome to the month of July at Queens Sports Club for cricket lovers with a titanic showdown expected between Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka this Sunday.
In a month in which Zimbabweans commemorate the passing of the late revolutionary icon and former Vice President, Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Bulawayo has the honor to host the mouthwatering battle coinciding with the national commemorations.
Hosts Zimbabwe and their opponents Sri Lanka have kept a 100% record out of their respective five matches with commanding performances to prove that they are the two sides to beat in the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup Qualifiers.
The two giants have thwarted everything in their way, dismantling any opposition to this stage, yet a top-of-the-table clash awaits them this Sunday at Queens Sports Club, with both sides looking for the bragging rights to the global showpiece in India later this year.
At this stage of the qualifiers, both teams need a win from their two matches to earn a ticket at the ICC men’s World Cup which will run from the 5th of October to the 19th of November in India.
Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka have faced each other in sixty One Day Internationals (ODIs). Out of those, Sri Lanka emerged victorious on 46 occasions, while Zimbabwe have 12 wins.
Zimbabwe however, are not reading much into the history books as they are enjoying their best form since 1999 with six wins on the trot.
All tournament long, Zimbabwe have proved that they have batting depth averaging above 300 runs a match in the qualifiers. The peak of those scores being the 408 runs against the United States of America and the 268 versus the West Indies being their lowest score.
In total, Zimbabwe has scored 1 618 runs across five innings, the best by any team in the competition thus far. With the experienced Sean Williams leading the batting attack, scoring 532 runs including 3 centuries and a 91 across the innings.
In addition to their form, Zimbabwe are also banking on their fans, whom they have often referred to as the 12th Man.
The Castle Corner at Harare Sports Club was electric during Zimbabwe’s group matches, with the fans always in high spirits which gave the home team motivation. Without doubt, the Zimbabwe Cricket Supporters Union played a key role in Zimbabwe beating the West Indies, cheering their team all the way to an emphatic victory.
The supporters carried the same energy levels to Bulawayo, arguably playing a part in Zimbabwe’s 14 run victory over a stubborn Nepal side.
It is a given fact that tomorrow the fans will show up in their numbers to Queens Sports Club as they did during the West Indies game. For that reason, Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) set up a fan park to accommodate supporters to watch the game free of charge on screen at Harare Sports Club.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankans have not been at their best with the bat, having been bowled out on three occasions out of five matches. They have proved that the 300+ score are not their thing against good bowling.
Of course, they have two 300+ scores in the competition (against UAE and Ireland), but their batsmen have been caught wanting against quality opposition, with top order woes being the order of the day.
However, they have relied on their bowling with Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara (until he got hurt) and Maheesh Theekshana coming to the party.
The bowlers have bailed Sri Lanka out on most occasions, barely allowing the opposition to gest past the 200-run mark. In their recent match, after posting a lowly 213 runs, they bowled the Netherlands out for 192 runs.
Out of the 5 matches they have played in the qualifiers so far, no team has reached 200 runs against them.
“Throughout the tournament we have managed to keep every side under 200 so far,” boasted Sri batting coach Naveed Nawaz.
Sri Lanka have been relying so much on the bowling bail out, with leg-spinner Hasaranga being the leading wicket taker in the tournament by a mile with 20 wickets at an average of 10.55, followed by Zimbabwe’s Richard Ngarava with 12 scalps at an average of 16.08.
Zimbabwe have shown an all round display of good cricket, while for Sri Lanka it is one sided, with Nawaz confident that their bowling will bail them out of any situation.
This is certainly the biggest challenge for both teams thus far, a battle between the best batting unit in the tournament and the best bowling unit.
One thing is for sure, it will be fireworks at Queens Sports Club come Sunday.