Kusal Perera preyed on a sub-par bowling effort, a docile Harare surface and sloppy fielding to hammer his maiden Test ton, a 121-ball 110, as Sri Lanka racked up 317 for 4 against Zimbabwe on the first day.
Perera, batting at No. 3, signalled his aggressive approach from the outset. Two wild swings early in his innings, one of which took the outside edge, didn’t alter his tactics. He plundered a tiring bowling attack for 15 fours and two sixes, including taking debutant Carl Mumba for five fours in an over after the tea break.
Perera was supremely confident against anything too full, often muscling boundaries straight including two sixes to the long-on area off Hamilton Masakadza in the space of three balls. The bowlers’ natural response was to drop short but a slow surface helped him read the length early and execute the pull efficiently in the arc between square leg and fine leg.
Despite Perera’s dominance, it would have been the Sri Lanka openers who may have worn the widest smiles on their journey to Zimbabwe. In their home series against Australia, Sri Lanka’s opening stands amounted to 27 in six innings, an average of 4.5. In their first Test since that series, Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne saw off the swinging new ball and added a 123-run stand against a harmless bowling attack.
Silva was typically staunch in defense and capitalised on the occasional short or overpitched delivery. After a slow start, Silva found his run-scoring rhythm towards the latter part of the first session.
After the lunch break, Silva made a slight change to his technique: he chose to play the ball later and use cross-batted shots – pulls and cuts behind square – to accumulate his runs. He struck 11 boundaries, most of which came via errant lines. Just after the tea break, a loss in concentration cost him his second successive ton, shimmying down and chipping part-timer Malcolm Waller to mid-on for 94.
Karunaratne was repeatedly dismissed in the same fashion against Australia: playing around his front pad and missing Mitchell Starc’s straight deliveries. He fell over against Zimbabwe’s accurate seamers too, but was able to manipulate the midwicket region because of the difference in pace. The bowlers weren’t helped by a sluggish pitch that got slower as the day wore on.
An error in judgement at this level can often be fatal. Karunaratne, who was looking impregnable on 56, went back to turn an innocuous delivery on the pads to square leg but reached the ball a fraction early. A leading edge was snaffled up at midwicket.
Zimbabwe’s seamers had extracted enough from the surface and in the air in the first hour, but Sri Lanka’s openers were disciplined. Many deliveries were left alone and a few even beat the bat. After that though, lateral movement ceased and they made use of the favourable batting conditions.
Sri Lanka may not have had as much success had Zimbabwe held on to their chances. Mumba pitched his first ball on middle – the second over of the day – and got it to swerve away just enough to take the shoulder of Karunaratne’s bat. Williams backtracked from gully but couldn’t cling on to his overhead one-handed attempt.
In the second session, Zimbabwe dropped three catches. Wicketkeeper Peter Moor spilled two of them standing up to the stumps, off Perera and Silva. Perera was given another reprieve when Malcolm Waller spilled a chance while running in from long-on.
Cremer lent some respectability to Zimbabwe’s day by having Kusal Mendis caught behind off a vicious legbreak. Towards the end, he also had Perera caught at cover to finish with figures of 3 for 82 in an otherwise substandard day. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)