Thisara Perera came up with stellar all-round performance as Sri Lanka stayed alive in the tri-nation one-day tournament, securing a five-wicket win against Zimbabwe on Sunday. Perera's 4/33 wrapped up Zimbabwe innings for 198 before his fluent 26-ball 39 not out helped Sri Lanka raced to 202/5 in 44.5 overs. He hit one four and three sixes, the last of which sealed the game.
Opener Kusal Perera was the highest scorer with 49 while captain Dinesh Chandimal was not out on 38.
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"Thisara is performing as a batsman and bowler. It is crucial; we missed the most senior player after the first game so Thisara stood as up as a performer," Chandimal said. "As I said, once you get a start in the top four you need to bat long. That's what we need to do, and we will have three more days to come up with a good plan."
Despite losing opener Upul Tharanga cheaply, Sri Lanka cruised to victory as Kusal Perera and Kusal Mendis kept the side untroubled, rotating the strike intelligently.
Zimbabwe, however, briefly appeared to turn the game in their favour, courtesy to fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani who moved the ball admirably on a helpful surface to strike three times in three overs.
He broke through with the wicket of Kusal Perera who scored 49 and shared a 70-run stand with Mendis. Muzarabani followed it up with the wicket of Mendis (36) and Niroshan Dickwella (7) to raise the prospect of another victory over Sri Lanka.
Chandimal resisted but Kyle Jarvis further troubled Sri Lanka with the wicket of Asela Gunratne (9).
Perera's effort with the ball gave Sri Lanka a relatively easy target to chase. Fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep played a strong supporting role, claiming a career best 3/28.
Brendan Taylor who returned to the Zimbabwe national team following his three-year stint with Nottinghamshire was the highest scorer with 58. He held together the innings after Perera had Zimbabwe wobbling at 56/3.
Left-arm spinner Lakshan Sandakan then dismissed the in-form Sikandar Raza, leaving Zimbabwe on 73/4 but Taylor was unfazed by the spirited Sri Lanka side, which needed to win the game to have any chance of joining Bangladesh in the final.
Taylor and Malcolm Waller combined for a 63-run stand for the fifth wicket to resurrect the innings before Sandakan again struck to get rid of Waller on 24. Perera then returned for his second spell to take the prized scalp of Taylor after he had brought up his 33rd half-century, which included six fours.
Taylor's dismissal effectively ended Zimbabwe's hopes of setting a big total.
Pradeep joined the party to clean up the tail, as Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer provided the resistance reaching 34 before seeing his leg-stump uprooted.
"We were probably 30 runs short with the bat. We need one of the top four to bat through the innings," Cremer said.
"Taylor played well, but we need one to bat till 45 overs. The seamers did quite well, maybe a bit inconsistent with the length."
Playing for the first time in the tournament, Sandakan returned figures of 2/57.
(With AP Inputs)