After winning the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series against Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe are now eyeing to make their tour a memorable one by putting up a battle in the one-off Test. Zimbabwe are having a dream run in Sri Lanka at the moment, riding on some brilliant performances, they have done extremely well in ODIs against the rebuilding Sri Lankan side. But Test cricket is a different ball game altogether.
When Zimbabwe won the toss at Colombo on Friday, they opted to bat first. Rangana Herath has been impressive to watch in this format, he has been Sri Lanka’s wicket-taking option and led the spin attack with unmatched confidence against the big guns. When Sri Lanka pacers went without a wicket in the first seven overs, skipper Dinesh Chandimal wasted no time in getting his best bowler into the attack.
Herath was given the new ball in the eighth over and the wily left-arm spinner didn’t disappoint. He lived up to the expectations by getting rid of Regis Chakabva on his very third delivery and drew the first blood. He didn’t stop there, Hamilton Masakadza was also dismissed in his third over and moments later, Lahiru Kumara got the better of Terisai Musakanda. Zimbabwe were in the hot water at 38 for 2 when Craig Ervine took guard but they lost Musakanda without adding any run to the board.
Ervine had a mountain to climb and so did Zimbabwe. Sri Lankan bowlers looked in good rhythm and it was Zimbabwe, who were under the pump. Ervine has been impressive but does not have plethora of Test experience. In fact, he has only played 11 Tests till date but has been prolific in First-Class cricket. This was undoubtedly a test of his character and Ervine certainly came out in flying colours.
Herath has wreaked havoc with his tricky spin bowling and already started creating doubts on batsmen’s mind. He threatened to do so once again but Ervine showed good intent and solid technique at Colombo and stood his ground. He played out the first over without milking a run and bid enough time at the crease to get his eyes in. In fact, he got off the mark on 13th delivery of his innings. While batting on 6, Ervine did something unexpected when he reverse-swept Herath for a boundary and tried to break the shackles.
Sean Williams, on the other hand, was looking comfortable at the crease and the partnership between the two was starting to look fruitful for Zimbabwe. But things changed quickly. With 70 runs on the board, Zimbabwe suffered another huge blow when Sean Williams was dismissed by Dilruwan Perera. The pressure once again hiked on Ervine as the onus of rescuing the Zimbabwean ship was now on his shoulders. Zimbabwe were in desperate need of a partnership but were running out of batsmen.
Ervine showed inspiring resistance against the dominant Sri Lankan spinners. Once he got his eyes in, his strokes began to come elegantly; he was astute enough to drive the full deliveries and looked composed at the crease. Ervine stitched a crucial partnership of 84 with Sikandar Raza, which is also the highest in Zimbabwe innings so far. Raza played a good hand but was trapped leg before by Herath on 36.
Zimbabwe were losing wickets at crucial junctures, just when things were starting to look good for them, Sri Lankan bounced back with a wicket. But, Ervine remained unaffected and continued to stitch partnerships to steer his side to a comfortable position. Ervine accounted for 41 runs with Peter Moor after which, Malcolm Waller stepped up. Waller contributed 36 vital runs and stitched 65-runs stand with Ervine in 11.2 overs. The duo took on the Sri Lankan bowlers and garnered runs at a brisk pace.
When Ervine ran a single off Herath in the 60th, it was time for him to celebrate his scintillating second Test ton, which came at a much-needed time. The most frustrating partnership for Sri Lanka was between Ervine and Donald Tiripano. The duo has added 62 runs for the ninth-wicket so far and will resume play on Day 2. Ervine has trusted his partner and Tiripano did well in not only staying alive at the crease but also scoring precious runs. Ervine also reached the 150-run mark just before the end of the Day 1, which is also his finest score in Test cricket.
Ervine’s outing was impressive to watch as he played the Sri Lankan bowlers with care and made the utmost use of batting conditions. Ervine confronted 68 deliveries from Herath without losing a wicket and more importantly scored 32 runs out of it. He milked 58 runs from 80 deliveries off Dilruwan Perera and gave a testament to his effectiveness against spin.
Zimbabwe certainly have a competitive total on the board and if Ervine and Tiripano continue to fare the way they have on Day 2, Sri Lanka will surely be under immense pressure. Ervine is unbeaten on 151 while Tiripano has played 45 deliveries for his 24 not out. At one stage, 200 looked difficult for Zimbabwe to achieve but now, they can dream of a total close to 400 or even above. This outing by Ervine has infused confidence in the Zimbabwean side and have them a solid chance to put up a battle at Colombo.