At first, it was just a dream and now it’s a reality. Beating Sri Lanka in whites in their own backyard is astronomical. They boast an impressive record at home and it is always a challenge to beat them on their home soil. Zimbabwe have been on a roll. They now stand a massive chance to emerge victorious in the one-off Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo. Sri Lanka are going through a transition phase. Since the retirement of the big guns, Sri Lanka have not managed to exhibit the same confidence which they used to do a few years back.
Zimbabwe have had a good run in Sri Lanka so far. They bounced back emphatically in the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series and won it by 3-2. They made a comeback when the chips were down and not many expected them to do so. After being delicately placed at 2-1 with Sri Lanka leading after the third ODI, Zimbabwe came out hard in the last two and sealed the series by 3-2. And now, they have runs on the board in the one-off Test.
Sikandar Raza has played a key role behind Zimbabwe’s success and has done a commendable job with his all-round skills. He finished the virtual final with a six and is now unbeaten on 97 at stumps on Day 3. Raza played with immense confidence against the formidable Sri Lankan attack, especially the spinners to steer his side to a commanding position. With the help of seven boundaries and a solitary six, Razan smashed an unbeaten 97 and stitched a crucial partnership with Malcolm Waller to rescue his side from choppy waters.
Riding on Craig Ervine’s prolific outing, Zimbabwe posted 356 runs on the board in the first innings. Ervine scored 160 while Raza also chipped in with a brisk 36 and accounted for a much-needed partnership with Ervine. Sri Lanka came out hard and almost levelled Zimbabwe’s total but fell short by 10 runs. Raza bowled 18 overs, conceding 60 runs but didn’t manage to scalp a wicket.
Zimbabwe had a 10-run lead but with almost three days left, a result looked on the cards and Zimbabwe needed to set a fighting target for the host to chase. Sri Lanka once again attacked with their most-experienced and wicket-taking bowler – Rangana Herath. Herath wasted no time and got early wickets with the new ball. He got rid of the top-order quickly and was well supported by Dilruwan Perera. Zimbabwe were precariously placed at 23 for 4 when Raza took guard and had a mountain to climb against the Sri Lankan spinners, who were wreaking havoc in Colombo.
Centurion from the first innings, Craig Ervine, was dismissed by 5. Sean Williams was undone by Rangana Herath for 22 and Zimbabwe were certainly in hot water after his dismissal. Raza stood his ground and Peter Moor provided enough resistance from the other end. The duo stitched a crucial 86 run stand between them and weathered the early storm.
Raza smashed three boundaries in four deliveries off Rangana Herath’s 13th over. And brought up his fifty in no time when he ran three of Perera’s overpitched delivery. He achieved the landmark in just 62 deliveries and as Zimbabwe were now fighting their way back into the game. Few overs later, Moor was dismissed for a well played 40 and Zimbabwe were once again in need of a partnership. Just when things were looking good for them, they lost a crucial wicket.
From this juncture, they needed someone to play a massive innings and get Zimbabwe another 70-80 runs. Raza continued his run and this time Malcolm Waller stood up and played a much-needed hand to put Zimbabwe in a comfortable position. Raza and Waller accounted for 107-runs between in 16.5 overs and brought Zimbabwe back into the game.
One of the main reasons behind Raza’s success was his effectiveness against spin. Raza scored 46 runs from 53 deliveries bowled to him by Herath. He also garnered 28 runs from 51 deliveries bowled by Dilruwan Perera to him. Herath finished with a fifer in the first innings and has already chipped four out of six wickets from Zimbabwean innings.
Raza is on the brink of scoring his maiden Test ton and has a good opportunity to achieve the landmark when play resumes on Day 2. One must not forget, he defied dehydration and cramps to hold the Zimbabwean innings together. When Zimbabwe needed someone to rise to the occasion and deliver the best, it was Raza who stood up, faced the challenge posed by Herath and helped his team to travel through the troubled waters.
Zimbabwe are already leading by 262 runs in the second innings with four wickets in hand. More importantly, they have a well set Waller and Raza at the crease. One can expect them to get more runs on day 4 and put a set a challenging target for Sri Lanka to chase.
Chasing anything over 250 is always a task in the fourth innings of a Test match, especially in the sub-continent. Zimbabwe have a hope, actually, more than a hope of winning this match. And Raza has done extremely to steer his side to such a comfortable position.