CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe , 22 May 1999

by John Ward

Why you should watch: This is the defending champions' last chance of reaching the Super Six. Will they be able to emulate Imran Khan's cornered tigers of the 1991/92 World Cup? If not, watch Zimbabwe take a huge step nearer qualifying for the next round for the first time.

Zimbabwe player to watch: Henry Olonga

Sri Lankan player to watch: Aravinda de Silva

Neutrals may care to enjoy: The likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga fighting for their team's survival; the unpredictable new pace bowling sensation Henry Olonga.

Schadenfreude potential: Watching Zimbabwe's bowlers spray yet more wides all over the place; the desperation of Sri Lanka as the going gets tough.

Old lags: Ranatunga (35), de Silva (33).

Young pups: Henry Olonga (22).

CricInfo prediction: If Zimbabwe win the toss, Zimbabwe, by a reasonable margin. If Sri Lanka win the toss, Zimbabwe, by a narrow margin.

This is the critical match for Arjuna Ranatunga's ageing team of World Cup defending champions after losing their first two matches. Defeat in this match will almost certainly guarantee their first-round departure from this tournament, followed by a humiliating return home to their native island and an unwelcome reception there. Victory would still leave them with the task of having to win their last two matches as well in order to qualify.

Zimbabwe on the other hand are very confident. They are on a high after winning their first two matches, and a third victory would almost guarantee them a place in the Super Six. Earlier this year they enjoyed two convincing victories over the Sri Lankans in Sharjah, where conditions were more suitable for the latter than themselves. They know they can win this match and they are ready for it.

Sri Lanka cannot be written off yet, but they will really have to pull something special out of the bag to turn the tables on Zimbabwe in this match. Their main handicap is probably their weak bowling attack. They rely heavily on off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, and the Zimbabweans do not consider their leading pace bowler Chaminda Vaas to be quite the force he was. Pramodya Wickremasinghe has proved expensive, although he did take two good South African wickets, and their other bowlers so far have been quite innocuous.

Zimbabwe's batsmen seem to have put aside their disastrous form in the warm-up matches against the counties and will be expecting to score heavily. Their bowlers will no doubt have spent a great deal of time practising since their embarrassing display against India on Wednesday, and proved to themselves they could contain the aggressive Sri Lankan batsmen in Sharjah.

The form book overwhelmingly favours Zimbabwe. But Sri Lanka undeniably still have the potential to overcome their recent problems and spring a surprise at this late stage. If they do, it is perhaps most likely to come from the bat of de Silva, who has scored many runs against Zimbabwe in years gone by. It is hard to believe his genius has been extinguished. Sanath Jayasuriya may come off, but he will first have to overcome the threat of his personal nemesis Heath Streak, who has frequently dismissed him cheaply in his prime. Or perhaps it might just be an inspired bowling spell by Muralitharan.

Most interest for Zimbabwe will be centred on Henry Olonga, who now knows, as does his captain, that he bowls best when he bowls flat out and leaves the line and length to look after themselves. If Streak can find the right channel he will be a very real danger, while Neil Johnson had an unexpectedly bad match against India. Eddo Brandes, after disappointing in that match, may have played his last match for Zimbabwe, although even against India he was able to put aside personal disappointment and play the role of a senior pro, encouraging and supporting the other bowlers. Pommie Mbangwa will probably return to take his place, or possibly Andrew Whittall in the unlikely event of the pitch favouring spin.

Both teams have everything to play for. Zimbabwe have everything going for them - but do not write off Sri Lanka yet.

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