Thisara Perera prospered with the short balls that once made him a penetrative limited-overs operator; Lakshan Sandakan turned the ball big and bought two wickets, which is the prerogative of any budding wristspinner and Nuwan Pradeep cleaned up the lower order with searing reverse swing. Sure, they are playing a side that is ranked 10th, but such has been the recent history between these teams that the following is nevertheless worth noting: this was a bowling performance of rare quality from Sri Lanka.
That Zimbabwe made only 198 - bowled out in 44 overs - was down to discipline from Sri Lanka's bowlers, almost all the way through the innings.The new-ball operators largely kept to good lines. The spinners were swept efficiently again, but thanks to Thisara's early blows, were not overwhelmed. Pradeep's finishing blows came quickly and suddenly, the opposition slipping from 191 for 7.
Brendan Taylor top-scored with a measured 58, helping restore a little dignity to the scoreline after Zimbabwe had slid to 73 for 4. He had Malcolm Waller for company in a 66-run fifth-wicket stand. But that was Zimbabwe's only substantial resistance. Graeme Cremer was the only batsman apart from Taylor to breach 30.
As has been the case through his career, it is Thisara's short ball that can often surprise batsmen, as it comes more quickly off the surface than batsmen expect. Hamilton Masakadza miscued a pull off Thisara to midwicket in the 10th over, before Craig Ervine soon edged him behind (he was the only one of Thisara's victims not to fall to a short or back-of-a-length delivery). When Solomon Mire top edged an attempted hook to the keeper, Thisara had taken three wickets for six runs in the space of 10 balls. Zimbabwe were reeling at 56 for 3 - the tone for the innings having been set down.
Later, Thisara would claim the prize wicket of Taylor, with another ball at the ribs, which prompted a miscued hook that was caught by fine leg. His 4 for 33 were his best figures since 2012. So often a confidence player, Thisara has now put three excellent bowling performances together for Sri Lanka.
Sandakan and Dananjaya were proficient in tandem through the middle overs, the latter focusing on containment while the former went hunting for wickets. Kusal Mendis took a sharp overhead catch at square leg to dismiss the in-form Sikandar Raza, while Niroshan Dickwella's pouching of an under-edge from Waller was also good. The Sri Lanka fielding effort was not without customary flaws - Upul Tharanga making a hash of one opportunity at square leg. But they did clear the incredibly low bar they had set in the first two matches of the tournament.
Taylor's was a rebuilding innings, and the match situation never really allowed him to break into a high gear. All but seven of his runs came on the legside, with Sri Lanka's bowlers often targeting the stumps. Had another batsman stuck by him after Thisara's early wickets, he may have taken Zimbabwe to a par score. Such was his comfort at the crease for the majority of his innings. With the tail for company, however, he ventured strokes he otherwise may not have.
Pradeep's three wickets to end the innings were some justification of a new selection policy, in which he is thought of primarily as a limited-overs option. They were only lower-order batsmen, but Sri Lanka have had issues dismissing the tail on plenty of occasions, over the last three years.