Where not so long ago, bilateral ODI series in T20 World Cup years lacked context, the ODI Super League has helped bring some importance to these fixtures. Neither Sri Lanka nor Zimbabwe are particularly well-placed on the table. Sri Lanka have 42 points, which puts them at seventh and could easily be pushed out of the top eight, where they will need to be to automatically qualify for the next ODI World Cup. Their position is especially precarious because they have played 15 of their possible 24 matches; every team below them on the table has played fewer.
As their Super League standing suggests, ODIs are perhaps Sri Lanka’s weakest format. They go into this series without a permanent head coach, with Rumesh Ratnayake filling in as interim coach. Also missing are Kusal Perera and Wanindu Hasaranga, who are injured, Avishka Fernando, who tested positive for Covid, Dhananjaya de Silva, who is on paternity leave, and Lahiru Kumara, who failed a skin-folds Test.
(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WLWWL
In the spotlight
In Zimbabwe’s last ODI series here, Sikandar Raza had hit 137 runs at an average of 68.5 and a strike rate of 108, frequently producing important innings from the lower middle order. He had also taken four wickets with his offspin. Raza comes into the series with five scores of 45 or more in his last nine ODI innings. But Zimbabwe have not played ODIs since September, so this isn’t form exactly.
Maheesh Theekshana has been one of Sri Lanka’s finds of 2021, and in the absence of Hasaranga, will likely shoulder more responsibility in the middle overs. He’s only played one ODI so far, but in T20s, he’s been economical in the powerplay, and difficult to hit in the middle overs, mainly because he has been as much an agent of accuracy as mystery.
Pitch and conditions
Pallekele, where all three matches will be played, has a reputation as one of the more seamer-friendly venues on the island, particularly under lights, when the ball can nip around. The forecast is largely clear for Sunday.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Kusal Mendis, 3 Charith Asalanka, 4 Ashen Bandara/Kamindu Mendis, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 7 Ramesh Mendis, 8 Chamika Karunaratne, 9 Nuwan Pradeep 10 Maheesh Theekshana, 11 Praveen Jayawickrama
In the absence of the newly-retired Brendan Taylor, 28-year-old opener Takudzwanashe Kaitano could get an ODI debut. Elsewhere, legspinning allrounder Tinotenda Mutombodzi could slot into the lower middle order. Blessing Muzarabani, who had had a good tour of Ireland, will lead the seam attack.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Regis Chakabva (wk), 2 Takudzwanashe Kaitano, 3 Craig Ervine (capt.), 4 Wesley Madhevere, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Tinotenda Mutombodzi, 8 Ryan Burl, 9 Wellington Masakadza, 10 Blessing Muzarabani, 11 Richard Ngarava
Stats and trivia
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf