Sri Lanka 182-4 (Sangakkara 44) beat
Zimbabwe 100 (A Mendis 6-8) by 82 runs
ICC WT20, Group C Match, Hambantota
Tournament hosts Sri Lanka were barely troubled by a poor Zimbabwe side as they won the opening match of the ICC World T20 2012 by 82 runs in Hambantota. It was a tale of the two Mendises as Jeevan starred with the bat to haul Sri Lanka up to 182 for four and Ajantha with the ball to help rout the visitors for just 100.
Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor's day began well as he won the toss and inserted Sri Lanka. He chose to play three pace-bowlers and leave out veteran left-arm spinner Ray Price, while Sri Lanka gave the expected chance to opener Dilshan Munaweera.
Munaweera was soon given plenty more chances by Zimbabwe's fielders, chiefly Malcolm Waller. Waller dropped him twice during the first six overs, one a difficult catch running back from mid-wicket, the other a straightforward one at deep square-leg. However, he perished not long afterwards in comical circumstances. Attempting to sweep a delivery from Prosper Utseya, he could only hit it as far as the uninspiring figure of Chris Mpofu at short fine-leg and set off for a run, only for Tillakaratne Dilshan to send him back halfway. He turned, dropping his bat as he did so, sprinted back, attempted to plonk his foot over the return crease, failing to do so by about an inch, and was run-out.
His wicket, along with the introduction of Zimbabwe's spin pair of Utseya and Graeme Cremer, heralded something of a Zimbabwe fightback. Where their seamers Kyle Jarvis, Brian Vitori and Chris Mpofu had struggled to control the swinging white ball - which moved prodigiously early on, Utseya and Cremer offered, if not a threat, then at least a modicum of control.
They steadily built the pressure before Cremer had Mahela Jayawardene trapped plumb LBW - or so he thought. The on-field umpire asked the third umpire, Richard Kettleborough, to check for a back-foot no-ball, which, after much deliberation, it was decided had occurred and Jayawardene was rewarded with not only a reprieve but also a free-hit. He didn't make the most of either, howover, failing to score off the free-hit, and was run-out soon after as Sri Lanka's running, which had looked worrying all innings, again let them down.
Dilshan departed just prior to Jayawardene for 39 off 28 balls. He had played beautifully and was ruthless on anything that was even a fraction wide from the Zimbabwean seamers, but was outfoxed by the impressive Cremer, who found a faint top-edge through to Taylor behind the stumps.
At this stage - 82 for three in the 12th over - Sri Lanka were just beginning to totter. However, Jeevan Mendis, perhaps surprisingly coming in ahead of Angelo Mathews, soon scotched any thought of a Zimbabwe comeback. He was fluent and hardly miscued a single shot, allowing his partner Kumar Sangakkara time to play himself in, before both launched a ferocious assault on Zimbabwe's death bowlers. By the time it finished, their fourth-wicket partnership had yielded 94 runs off only 49 balls and had snuffed out any realistic hope that Zimbabwe had of winning.
Sangakkara became the third run-out of Sri Lanka's innings when on 44 and in the final over of his side's innings, but even this didn't help Zimbabwe as Thisara Perera came in and hit his first ball for six.
If Zimbabwe were going to even get close to Sri Lanka, then two of their top three probably had to make half-centuries, and, after a slow start initially, it looked promising. Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda had accumulated steadily and taken the score to 37 in the sixth over before Sibanda became the first of Ajantha Mendis' victims. New batsman Brendan Taylor then followed to the very next ball and, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, Zimbabwe's chances were virtually over.
Just to make absolutely sure, Mendis bowled Masakadza in his next over and proceeded to take six wickets and deliver two maidens during his superb four-over spell. His figures of six for eight were enough to break his own record for the best bowling figures in Twenty20 Internationals. Ajantha was then helped by his namesake, Jeevan, in his efforts to dismantle Zimbabwe's batting, as the all-rounder followed up his excellent innings with three lower middle-order wickets. Lasith Malinga then dispensed with last-man Chris Mpofu with the score on exactly 100 and that was that.
After the match, Brendan Taylor was left to reflect on the shortcomings of his side and showed clear disappointment at was, he admitted, a thoroughly below-par performance. " It is a tough pill to swallow," he said. "We are a far better side than we showed. Credit goes to Sri Lanka. They showed why they are one of the favourites to win the tournament. We have played enough cricket to go back from today, rethink and come back a better side."
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene was just pleased to have avoided a potential banana skin, commenting: "It's tough playing a team like Zimbabwe. You can't take anything for granted. We just had to make sure we played to our potential."
© Cricket World 2012
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