In only his second ODI, Janith Liyanage produced a match-defining performance, one that took his side to a thrilling win against Zimbabwe in Colombo on Monday. His 95 off 127 balls was by far the highest individual score for Sri Lanka in the second ODI, the next-best score being 21 as the hosts sneaked home by two wickets.
Liyanage did, however, fall five runs short of a maiden international ton, when he attempted to thump Blessing Muzarabani down the ground for six in the 43rd over, and was caught at mid-off instead. On the surface, it appeared an unnecessary stroke as Muzarabani was one of Zimbabwe’s most threatening bowlers, and Sri Lanka still had 46 balls in which to get the 37 runs they needed. What’s more, Liyanage’s departure left Sri Lanka with only two wickets remaining and put Zimbabwe again into the ascendancy.
The hosts would hobble to their target of 209 eventually, as rainfall intensified in the roughly half hour of play. Liyanage explained that it was the rain – rather than the scoreline, or the desire to reach a century – that forced him to take the risk in the 43rd over.
“More than the century, what I wanted was to get the team to victory,” he said. “At that time, we were about five runs behind the DLS score. So I thought if I hit a six in that over, we’d be able to win even if the match stopped because of rain. All I thought of was winning the match, and I’m glad we were able to get there.”
Liyanage had also earlier put on a 56-run seventh-wicket stand alongside Maheesh Theekshana, to lift Sri Lanka from a scoreline of 112 for 6. Theekshana contributed only 18 to this partnership, which saw Liyanage bat more aggressively than he had earlier in the innings. But he chose his targets carefully.
“When Maheesh and I were batting, they [Zimbabwe] were bowling their best bowlers, and they only had a few overs left,” Liyanage said. “So our plan was to get two or three runs an over off their best bowlers, then take the game into the last five or six overs, and score our runs there.”
The rain had been in the air for much of the chase, with it forcing a long delay 13 overs into Sri Lanka’s innings. The moisture had assisted Zimbabwe’s quicks, according to Liyanage.
“We lost two wickets at the start, and with the rain, the ball started to move a bit. So I thought at the time that they’ve got two fast bowlers, so I’ll defend against them and if I bat for a while and get set, I could bat till the end. Their tall quicks got a bit extra out of the conditions with the rain.”