When Zimbabwe’s tour of Sri Lanka had begun last month, a one-sided contest was anticipated in both the formats, One-Day International (ODI) and Test. However, somehow the Zimbabweans have managed to take a way out to outgo the hosts. In the five-match ODI series, although Sri Lanka took a dominant lead of 2-1, the inferior side Zimbabwe shocked the cricket fraternity when they won the final two ODIs and sealed their first-ever ODI series win over a Full Member nation. Similarly, in the ongoing Test, they have never allowed Sri Lanka to control the game steadily for a long time. At some stage in the Test, at least one player has stood up, taking the charge in his hands help Zimbabwe continue to resist.
To begin with, it was their middle-order batsman Craig Ervine who threw a bombshell on the very opening day of the Colombo Test, when he registered a 150. He eventually was dismissed for a 256-ball 160 but the knock laid the foundation of Zimbabwe’s innings. It was then time for the sea-saw to tilt towards the Sri Lankans and yet again Rangana Herath was their trump card, who pulled out an another five-wicket haul and restricted Zimbabwe, who threatened to go beyond 400, at 356 runs in 94.4 overs.
Sri Lanka took off their innings in a very calculated way. They lost their first wicket only after piling up 84 runs on the board. The next fell soon after that at 107 for 2. Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka’s new Test captain joined the other Sri Lankan skippers who had scored a fifty on a Test debut. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe needed one more fight back into the Test. Knowing how destructive Sri Lankans can get on the home soil, it was necessary to apply breaks on their runs scoring. Zimbabwe are among the rare sides who have a bowling Test captain and it was Graeme Cremer’s duty here to drag his side out of the trouble created by the Islanders.
Zimbabwe’s fast bowler, Donald Tiripano drew first blood and soon after that it was the skipper who struck to dismiss, perhaps Sri Lanka’s two crucial batsmen, Kusal Mendis and Chandimal. Cremer’s Zimbabwe’s performance has testified that it has an all-new Zimbabwean team. Their body language and energy on the field has been yielding a bulk of positivity. While the wickets fell at one end, Sri Lankan batsman Upal Tharanga was stuck on the other end. However, the way the visitors got him run out showed those guys seemed hungrier than ever for a victory in a Test. The fielders were quick, the keeper was alert to run towards the non-striker’s end and the brilliant team effort ended Tharanga’s innings at 71 runs off 107 balls.
Cremer dismissed Chandimal in the 61st over and just four overs later he even removed Sri Lanka’s wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella. The hosts ended Day two at 293 for 7 with Herath and Gunaratne at the crease. On Day three, it was Sean Williams who made the first breakthrough before the captain wrapped up Sri Lanka’s first innings. He achieved a special milestone of becoming the first Zimbabwe’s Test captain to have clutched a five-wicket haul in Tests. His connection with Sri Lanka only got strengthen as he had hit his maiden Test hundred also against the same side.
In 2016, Sri Lanka toured Zimbabwe for a two-Test series. During that particular tour, it was the usual scenario where Zimbabwe was being ruled by the opponent. In the first Test, although Cremer’s hundred saved Zimbabwe from a follow-on, they anyway lost the match eventually. However, there seems a massive change in the team since the2016 series.
Now that Cremer’s 5 for 151 denied Sri Lanka from taking any lead, the Zimbabwean batsman have so far ensured the Test does not slip away from their hands from here on. Before the third day ended, Sri Lankan vicious spinner, Herath, had laid the trap when he reduced Zimbabwe to 17 for 3 before they lost the fourth wicket also quickly. It was Sikandar Raza’s turn to step up and he stubbornly held on for Zimbabwe in the match. Raza ended the day with 97 runs and will eye to reach the triple digests for the very first time in Tests in the morning session of Day four. At stumps, Zimbabwe had gained a lead of 262 runs with four wickets remaining. The job is not done for Cremer yet as there is a huge task of defending, whatever total Zimbabwe put up, to complete the surprise victory of the year! If Zimbabwe goes on to win the Colombo Test, the credit will be due to a number of heroes in the team, but mainly to the trio of Ervine, Cremer and Raza.