There were nervy moments for the Sri Lankans' drumming, chanting supporters but in the end their depth of batting powered them home.
The Man of the Match, Marvan Atapattu, was the backbone of their innings, hitting the only half-century of the match with a cultured 54 from 90 balls. If it contained more nudging than boundaries, it was the paced kind of batting the situation required to counter Guy Whittall's three- wicket strike, which included the cheap dismissals of Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga. When Atapattu edged Heath Streak to slip, and the fast bowler had Mahela Jayawardena lbw in his next over, leaving Sri Lanka 157 for 6, the Zimbabweans' heads picked up. Romesh Kaluwitharana and Chaminda Vaas brought them down again with some exciting hitting.
In truth, Zimbabwe were up against it from the moment Ranatunga won the toss and put them in. It was not that the pitch seamed or that the white ball swung prodigiously. Neither misbehaved. It was more that the sun made a welcome early-morning appearance, promising ideal batting conditions for the side chasing a target.
Zimbabwe had themselves to blame for not setting a more challenging one. Several partnerships put together useful stands that might have been match- winners but for self-inflicted errors. Most decisive was the double departure of Stuart Carlisle and Andy Flower in the 40th over after they had put on 68 in 14 overs for the seventh wicket.
Carlisle was first to go, run out failing to beat Vaas's smart throw to the bowler. It was the second run-out of the innings - Murray Goodwin had gone to a direct hit - and worse followed next ball. The left-handed Flower's reverse sweep of Sanath Jayasuriya's left-arm spin only spooned as far as the wicketkeeper. A dolly of a catch from a folly of a shot that left Zimbabwe 162 for 8.
Until then Flower had batted well for his 41 from 60 balls, having scored only four in his first six overs as Zimbabwe lost his younger brother Grant, captain Alistair Campbell and Whittall for 16 runs. At 94 for 6 Zimbabwe were limping, but Carlisle thumped Jayasuriya for six over long- on and the Zimbabweans were under way again.
As well as the run-out, Sri Lanka worked useful one-two counter-punches to their advantage. Three times a bowler conceded a boundary, then took a wicket with his next delivery. Neil Johnson was the first to go in this way, aiming to hook Eric Upashantha but top-edging a high catch to mid- on as the ball hurried on to him. Paul Strang was unlucky, for the ball deflected off his body on to his stumps after he had sweetly timed Pramodya Wickremasinghe to the mid-on boundary.
Campbell, playing in his 100th one-day international, certainly considered himself unlucky to be adjudged caught behind off the same bowler, given the time he stood his ground. His previous stroke had sped to the cover boundary but, pushing forward to his next, he edged to Kaluwitharana. the umpire David Shepherd had no doubt there was a touch and had already raised his finger once before Campbell looked round to see it being raised again. It was not a case of dissent, simply disbelief, but in an innings of fits and starts it was another major setback.
In contrast to their first two games, the Sri Lankans kept a tigerish grip on their opponents' batting, bowling a tight line throughout and fielding keenly. Wickremasinghe, coming on for the 11th over, applied the stranglehold with 3 for 26 in an eight-over spell, having also taken the catch that removed Johnson. Ranatunga was also back to his wily best at the helm, repeatedly rotating his bowlers in the closing stages so that the batsmen never settled.
He also held a juggling catch at slip to dismiss Whittall, who several balls earlier had nudged a four through what was a vacant area before Ranatunga moved there. If Vaas had not been long-handled for 17 by Eddo Brandes and Henry Olonga in the final over, Sri Lanka's task would have been even less demanding.
Scoreboard, page 10