The ‘never give-up’ attitude that Zimbabwe displayed to win their maiden ODI series against Sri Lanka was quite evident at the R Premadasa Stadium yesterday when they recovered from a shaky position of 23-4 at lunch to finish the third day of the one-off Test strongly placed at 252-6 to enjoy an overall lead of 262 with four second innings wickets intact.
From this position Zimbabwe could fancy their chances of pressing for their maiden Test win against Sri Lanka on a pitch which has afforded spin and bite when the ball is hard and comfortable to score runs when the ball is soft.
That Zimbabwe lost only a solitary wicket in each of the second and third sessions of play following the flurry of wickets that fell in the first session summarises the behavior of the pitch over the three days.
Whatever target that Zimbabwe sets it will not be an easy chase for Sri Lanka batting fourth on this pitch. It will be a tough challenge and will test the resources of the batting unit how well they can cope with the situation. In each of their matches on the tour where Zimbabwe has tasted success there has always been someone to put his hand up.
In the first ODI it was Solomon Mire who scored his maiden century, in the fourth ODI it was Craig Ervine, in the fifth ODI Hamilton Masakadza, the first innings of the current Test Craig Ervine’s monumental knock of 160 and yesterday Sikander Raza took the spotlight, although the match is not over yet.
Raza is just three runs away from scoring his maiden Test hundred but more importantly for Zimbabwe it was the time he spent at the wicket that was crucial. He has so far batted for 269 minutes and faced 158 balls in scoring 97 not out that has one six and eight fours.
Like Ervine in the first innings Zimbabwe found in Raza the cornerstone to build their second innings after Rangana Herath had left them high and dry at lunch by capturing three of the four wickets to fall for 23 runs.
Raza first forged a crucial 86-run stand with Peter Moor (40) and after his dismissal at 145, found another able partner in Malcolm Waller with whom he has added 107 runs in an unfinished seventh wicket partnership. that has really put Zimbabwe in control of the Test. Zimbabwe has nicely soaked up the pressure and continued building partnerships that has placed them in this strong position.
Waller completed his maiden Test half-century before the close to remain 57 not out off 76 balls (8 fours). Raza also could have got to his landmark before the end of the day but he was slowed down by fatigue and cramps having lasted out nearly two sessions. But the important fact for Zimbabwe is that he is still at the wicket.
Raza’s resolute batting coupled with moments of aggression has given the Zimbabwe bowlers a total to bowl at the opposition which in the morning session looked quite unlikely.
Sri Lanka’s last three wickets added 53 runs to be all out for 346 giving Zimbabwe a 10-run first innings lead. A hobbling Asela Gunaratne was the last man out for 45 having stayed at the crease for 126 minutes and helped his team add 108 valuable runs in partnerships with the late order and tail. Zimbabwe skipper Graeme Cremer who found appreciable turn and bite with his right-arm wrist spin was rewarded with his maiden five-for in Tests finishing with figures of 5 for 125. (Daily News)