For one moment it looked like Zimbabwe was going to be rolled over again by the subtle left-arm spin of Rangana Herath who was their nemesis in the last series when he grabbed two wickets for 36 runs in a morning spell of nine overs and reduced the visitors to 38-3 on the opening day of the one-off Test played at the R Premadasa Stadium yesterday.
However left-hander Craig Ervine stood tall for his country as he carved out only his second century in a dozen Tests to ensure Zimbabwe didn’t lose the advantage of winning the toss and batting first on a pitch that was tailor made for it.
Zimbabwe’s early loss of wickets – they went to lunch at 96-4 was compensated in the afternoon and final sessions of play when Sri Lanka were allowed only four further wickets while 248 runs were added.
Ervine was the cornerstone on which Zimbabwe’s total was built. He held one end up beautifully playing Herath and the other bowlers so comfortably that it gave his partners some confidence to hang around and build useful partnerships with him.
There’s no doubt that Zimbabwe’s batting runs deep till their captain who bats at number nine and from 70-4, Zimbabwe recovered to 344 for eight wickets through stands of 84, 41, 65 and an unfinished ninth wicket stand of 62 off 99 balls involving Sikander Raza (36), Peter Moor (19), Malcolm Waller (36) and Donald Tiripano (24 n.o.) with Ervine.
For the left-hander Ervine who hails from a cricketing family (father, uncle and brothers have played cricket) yesterday's knock came at a time when Zimbabwe needed it most. He brought it up off 146 balls with a paddle sweep which he used to good effect during his tenure at the wicket. Overall he has faced 238 balls and hit 13 fours and a six and most importantly it was a pristine knock that the entire team would be proud of especially weathering the heat and humidity for nearly 5½ hours. It was a career best knock beating the 146 he scored against New Zealand at Bulawayo in August 2016. Each time Sri Lanka broke through, Zimbabwe was able to stage recoveries through useful partnerships that contribute to their final total.
That seven of the eight Zimbabwe wickets to fall on the opening day was taken by the spinners creates an illusion that the wicket is helping spin, but it is not so. It is still perfect for batting and none of the deliveries bowled by the Lankan spinners spun across or beat the bat. The fact that no catches went to hand tells a story in itself of how the pitch is playing. It has during the day flattened out and become slower allowing the batsmen the liberty to counter any turn if there is with comfort. Old war horse Herath once again bore the brunt of the bowling reeling off 30 of the 90 overs bowled for the day for figures of 4 for 106 that took him past Waqar Younis (373) and Malcolm Marshall (376) in the all-time list.
Zimbabwe capped 22-year-old right-hander Tarisai Musakanda. (Daily News)