Sri Lanka emerged victorious in the first Test match of the series against Zimbabwe held at Harare. It was the 100th Test match for the African minnows, and they put up a valiant fight, fitting for the occasion, but the gulf in class between the two teams showed at the end.
Captain Graeme Cremer was at the center of the battle, holding one end tight, as the Zimbabwe lower order rallied on, on the final day of the match but the islanders dug deep and clawed a hard-fought victory with just over 7 overs to spare.
A depleted Sri Lankan team, under the captaincy of veteran spinner Rangana Herath, began the match on a positive note, with their openers Dimuth Karunaratne (54) and Kaushal Silva (94) stitching a 123-run stand, after which Kusal Perera (110) took over. The wicket-keeper batsman, promoted to No.3, tore apart a below-par Zimbabwe attack on a docile Harare track, as he plundered his first Test century.
He was ably supported by Upul Tharanga, who showed immense patience on the morning of Day 2, as he scored an unbeaten 110, and along with debutant Asela Gunaratne (54), helped Sri Lanka score a mammoth 537 in their first innings. Cremer was the pick of the bowlers for Zimbabwe with four wickets to his name.
First batting collapse
The Zimbabweans remained undaunted despite such a large first innings total to chase down, and began their batting with a positive intent. Tino Mawoyo (45) and Hamilton Masakadza (33) held fort after Mawoyo’s opening partner Brian Chari (5) was dismissed cheaply. But a batting collapse was to follow, as the host nation went from 92 for 1 at the start of Day 3 to a sorry 139 for 6.
Cremer fights back
But the lower middle order fought back putting up some strong rearguard action. Peter Moor (84), who had had a torrid spell behind the wickets, put on a crucial 132-run partnership with captain Graeme Cremer (102) as they made sure Zimbabwe avoided the follow-on. Along the way, Cremer completed his maiden Test match hundred, a knock that was defined by his discipline and patience. He added another 92 runs with bowler Donald Tiripano (46), making sure Zimbabwe reached a respectable total of 373 when the last wicket fell.
Dimuth leads from the front
Sri Lanka began their second stint with the bat with a healthy lead of 154. But the top order struggled to have the same effect as the first innings with the likes of Silva, Perera and Tharanga falling rather cheaply.
However, Dimuth Karunaratne (110) hung on after being dropped on 5 and made it count as he went on and scored a century, his fourth in Test cricket. He and Dhananjaya de Silva (64) added a quick-fire 92 runs for the fifth wicket, as the Lankan lead extended to 411 before rain intervened.
Second batting collapse
With the threat of rain looming large, Sri Lanka declared their innings overnight and Zimbabwe walked in to bat on the morning of Day 5. Teenage debutant Lahiru Kumara broke the opening stand on 31, with a pacy inswinger that sent Chari’s off-stump for a walk.
Another batting collapse ensued as Zimbabwe lost four wickets for just six runs. With the score 74 for 5 at lunch, the Lankans smelled victory.
Cremer and Williams resist but cave eventually
But the Zimbabweans showed more fight as Sean Williams and that man, Graeme Cremer, again, defied the Lankans with some gritty rearguard action. And they almost pulled it off, but credit to the Sri Lankan players who never gave up. They kept coming at the Zimbabwe batsmen and finally managed to break through the wall, finishing the game with a well-deserved 225-run victory.
Contrary to the margin of the victory, it was a riveting Test match and was thrilling till the last wicket fell. Zimbabwe, in their centenary Test match, put on a show that not many would have expected from them at the start of the match. Zimbabwe fought bravely throughout and if they had held on to the horde of chances, and if not for some questionable umpiring decisions that went against them, who knows what the end result might have been.
Graeme Cremer was rightly adjudged the Man of the Match, as he led his team from the front with a brilliant century in the first innings and top scoring again the second time around.
The Sri Lankan camp will be a very happy one after the win, as all the top order batsmen came to the party in either innings while there was great promise shown by the fast bowlers as well. Spinner Dilruwan Perera was also impressive for the Lankans and stand-in captain Rangana Herath will be happy with his team and his performance on a personal level after finishing the game with 6 wickets.
With the win, Sri Lanka take a 1-0 lead in the 2-match series, with the second match set to begin on November 6 at Harare.