LINCOLN — Brendan Taylor has hailed the Zimbabwe cricket team as a new machine, ready to rock and roll as they take on the best on the globe, in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in New Zealand and Australia.Taylor and his men stunned the world, for the second time in three days, when they romped to a comprehensive seven-wicket win over former world champions Sri Lanka in their final warm-up match in Lincoln, New Zealand, yesterday.
On a good day for Zimbabwean sport, both on the field and in the boardroom, the woes of troubled ZIFA were pushed into the background after the association’s leadership was forced to postpone their contentious board and assembly meeting set for this weekend in the capital.
The board and assembly meetings, set for Friday and Saturday, had been dismissed by critics as meetings meant to purge three ZIFA board members, including vice president Omega Sibanda, for being critical of the way their secretariat has been run.
The announcement by ZIFA spokesman Xolisani Gwesela that the meetings had been postponed, after the Sports Commission intervened yesterday amid concerns that the two indabas were in violation of the association’s constitution, meant that the drama at 53 Livingstone Avenue was pushed into the shade.
Instead, the focus, rightly, fell on the heroes who flew Zimbabwe’s flag high in New Zealand yesterday as the country’s cricketers posted an impressive victory over the highly-rated Sri Lankans.
Having dominated hosts New Zealand in their first official World Cup warm-up match, by reducing the Black Caps to 157-7 before rain intervened, the Zimbabweans went a gear up yesterday with a stunning win over a very powerful Sri Lanka outfit.
The Zimbabweans chased down Sri Lanka’s 279-8, with seven wickets in hand and 4.4 overs to spare, with Hamilton Masakadza leading the way as he remained unbeaten on 117 from 119 balls, having forged hundred-stands with both Taylor and Sean Williams, who hit fifties.
Sri Lanka will be concerned at the lack of menace in their attack, despite Lasith Malinga’s return. Malinga himself was bowling off a full run up and regularly found the yorker length, but seemed some way from his quickest pace. Masakadza and Taylor were joined in the seventh over and it was their 127-run stand from 126 balls that broke the back of the chase.
Taylor struck six fours in his 68-ball 63, while Masakadza struck at close to a run-a-ball throughout his innings.
Taylor was out flicking a leg-side Dilshan ball to short fine leg in the 28th over, but Williams was soon scoring briskly. He and Masakadza effectively took the match away from Sri Lanka in the batting Powerplay, which was taken in the 35th over.
Masakadza reached his century off the 103rd ball he faced, with a single to deep cover off Rangana Herath. He hit eight fours and three sixes, the last of which was a straight hit into the sight-screen, off Herath.
Despite playing international cricket for 14 years, this is Masakadza’s first World Cup tournament and his performance in Christchurch yesterday showed he is more than ready to take on the world in the global showcase starting Saturday.
There was a buzz in the Zimbabwe dressing room during the second half of the chase and Williams drove through wide mid-off to bring up the winning runs. After the win yesterday, Taylor took to his Twitter account to praise his team.
“Great win by the guys today against a very good team. Still early days, but we are a new team that is confident and determined,” said Taylor.
Masakadza said Zimbabwe’s preparation had gone particularly well, having reduced New Zealand to 157 for 7 on Monday, before yesterday’s win over Sri Lanka.
“Main improvement is the bowling, where the guys have really improved and worked on what each individual bowler needs to do,” Masakadza said.
“They’ve found a way to work around their strengths, and we’ve developed different plans for different guys, which is really working.
“That’s something our bowling coach, Douglas Hondo, has been working with them on since the Bangladesh tour, and things are just coming together now. Our fielding has improved quite a lot, so that’s also helping.”
His 127-run third-wicket partnership with Taylor, which came at better than a run-a-ball, set up the victory and his 119-run stand with Sean Williams came at an even quicker rate — off 105 deliveries.
“We just tried to play with a lot of positive intent, and tried to reverse the pressure quite a bit,” said Masakadza.
“When we got a few away it became easier for us. The main thing was to keep Lasith Malinga out and just work the other guys. It was a case of working hard against him and working out those variations.”
Williams starred with both the bat and the ball, first emerging as the pick of the Zimbabwean bowlers to finish with figures of 3-35 in 10 overs before an unbeaten 51 off 46 helped his team’s run chase.
Nuwan Kulasekara was perhaps the best of Sri Lanka’s bowlers, taking 1 for 23 runs in his five overs. Malinga went at 6.57 runs in his seven overs, while Lakmal disappeared for eight an over in his seven.
Herath was the most economical, conceding only 27 from his six.
Earlier, Tinashe Panyangara made the first incision after Sri Lanka opted to bat, dismissing makeshift opener Kumar Sangakkara for 8. Lahiru Thirimanne and Mahela Jayawardene then launched a 62-run stand, but were both dismissed for 30, in quick succession.
Dimuth Karunaratne hit 58 off 71 from No. 4 to raise his chances of playing in Sri Lanka’s middle order in the tournament curtain-raiser on Saturday, perhaps edging out Dinesh Chandimal, who made 29 from 46.
Sri Lanka had modest contributions from elsewhere in their lower middle order, but stuttered through the second half of their innings, as Williams claimed 3 for 35 from his 10 overs of left-arm spin.
It was Jeevan Mendis’ run-a-ball 51 that held the lower-order performance together, and he now goes into the tournament with some batting form behind him. — Cricinfo/CricBuzz/Sports Reporter.