An amateurish approach to spin upfront was somewhat covered up by Craig Ervine and Brian Chari, who hit unbeaten half-centuries, to lead Zimbabwe’s recovery from an early wobble. They closed the second day of the second Test in Harare at 126 for 2, still 378 runs adrift of Sri Lanka’s 504.
Ervine and Chari’s unbroken 109-run stand for the third wicket stood out on a day in which most of the wickets were brought about by faulty shot selection, rather than demons in the pitch. Even so, Sri Lanka remained in control, having been powered by centuries from Dhananjaya de Silvaand Asela Gunaratne.
Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain, triggered what could have been a procession when he reduced Zimbabwe to 17 for 2. Opening the bowling, he beat Tino Mawoyo with drift to have him lbw. Then he dismissed Hamilton Masakadza, Zimbabwe’s most experienced batsman, with a delivery that drew him forward into a feeble push that resulted in an edge to slip. It could have been 26 for 3, had Chari not made successful use of the Decision Review System, trialled for the first time in Zimbabwe.
Having been given out lbw playing forward to an arm-ball that struck him in front of off stump, Chari survived as replays pointed to a faint inside edge, and Ian Gould’s on-field decision was overturned. Zimbabwe had also benefitted from the prudent use of DRS when Chari survived a review in the third over after being given out by umpire Simon Fry. This time, replays showed the ball would have missed the stumps.
All this came after flirting with a hit-out approach against Herath. He slog-swept his first ball for six, becoming the first Zimbabwe player to do so in Tests. Then got a thick edge past slip for four. The third shot, easily the best of the lot, was lofted inside-out with the spin, over mid-off. But, as the innings progressed and he had the calmness of Ervine at the other end, Chari mellowed down to play copybook cricket for the better part of the next 90 minutes. With a half-century in sight, he slog swept Herath boldly for his second six to bring up the landmark, his first in Tests.
Ervine, meanwhile, adopted a more conventional approach, getting outside the line of the stumps and sweeping Herath with the spin, one such fierce hit behind square bringing up his half-century. By stumps, the two had steered Zimbabwe to 179 runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
Things could have been much better for Zimbabwe had they not allowed Sri Lanka’s middle order to stage a robust recovery from an overnight score of 290 for 5. Contributions from the lower order, none more significant than Gunaratne’s 116, steered Sri Lanka to a formidable 500-plus first-innings score. Playing in only his second Test, Gunaratne was left with the unenviable task of marshalling No. 11 Lahiru Kumara, who had made a golden duck on debut last week, in his quest to get to a maiden Test ton.
Kumara played his part, dead-batting the fast bowlers for over a dozen deliveries to give Gunaratne his chance. Gunaratne brought up the century with a loft that just about eluded mid-off, and then threw his arms up to acknowledge the applause of his team-mates in the change room. In the context of the match, it was a significant knock considering that he came in to bat with Sri Lanka not entirely safe at 255 for 5. By following up his debut half-century with a century, he may have given the team management a healthy selection dilemma for the Test series in South Africa next month.
Dhananjaya, on 100 overnight, added 27 before chipping a low return catch to Graeme Cremer. Dilruwan Perera then made a cameo 34, in which he took a liking to the Zimbabwe captain, before being foxed by a flipper. Herath played his typically unorthodox sweeps and pulls. All this added to Zimbabwe’s frustration by keeping them in the field for much longer than they would have hoped for. It also exposed the wide gulf in experience between the two sides, which could yet decide which way this Test is headed. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)