Pathum Nissanka’s sublime unbeaten 101 propelled Sri Lanka to a place in this year’s ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in India as the 1996 winners trounced hosts Zimbabwe by nine wickets on Sunday.
Sri Lanka had bowled out Zimbabwe for a modest 165 inside 33 overs and Nissanka never gave the hosts a hope of victory with his superb innings lifting Sri Lanka to 169 for one in their Super Six stage match.
Zimbabwe can still qualify if they beat Scotland on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers had performed admirably in skittling the hosts out – man of the match Maheesh Theekshana taking 4-25.
Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka said it was crucial for them to be at the sport’s quadrennial showpiece – another former winner West Indies are missing out for the first time after losing to Scotland on Saturday.
“It was a much-needed thing for Sri Lanka to play on that big stage,” said Shanaka.
“See coming for the qualifiers. It’s always tough but still, if you go through the process...and we knew with the team we’ve got, we were going to qualify for the World Cup.”
The Zimbabweans had been up against it from the start after being put into bat by Shanaka and were left tottering on 30-3 due to a stunning opening spell by Dilshan Madushanka.
The hosts had prided themselves on getting through the first 10 overs in the previous matches in the tournament virtually unscathed – they had lost just the one wicket.
However, a fired-up Madushanka gave them a rude awakening reducing them to 8-2 beginning by dismissing Joylord Gumbie for a duck and then Wessley Madhevere for one.
He snapped up the key wicket of captain Craig Ervine for just 14, the 37-year-old with over 100 ODI appearances for the hosts nicking the ball to wicketkeeper Kusal Mendis.
‘Very good cricket’
Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza steadied the ship – only after the former had escaped when Matheesha Pathirana dropped a simple chance off Madushanka prompting a withering look from Sri Lankan coach Chris Silverwood.
They put on a fluent partnership of 68 but just as they were hitting their boot straps Raza on 31 holed out to Madushanka off the bowling of Shanaka to leave the hosts 98-4.
They recovered briefly thanks to 19 – including three sixes – coming off a Dhananjaya over.
Williams brought up his half century with a beautifully executed four in Shanaka’s next over.
However, his elation was to turn to despair soon afterwards.
Shanaka made an inspired bowling change bringing on Theekshana for his second spell in place of the the expensive Dhananjaya and with just his fifth ball bowled Williams for 56.
Theekshana struck again dismissing Burl for 16 with a similar type delivery to reduce the hosts to 130-6 and it became 144-7 when he trapped Luke Jongwe lbw for 10.
The Zimbabwe tail failed to wag with the unpredictable Matheesha Pathirana taking two of the remaining three wickets in one over.
Ervine said despite the heavy defeat they would stick to their gameplan for Tuesday’s match.
“I don’t think we need to prepare any differently from what we have been doing in this tournament (against Scotland),” said Ervine.
“We have been playing some very good cricket. Sri Lanka were much better than us today.”