How many times do we see a team setting a target of over 350 in the fourth innings of a Test after losing half the side under 60? Well, it’s rare. Zimbabwe clawed their way back into the game after being precariously placed at 59 for 5 at one stage. They scored 377 in the second innings and gave themselves more than a solid chance of winning the one-off Test. Sikandar Raza led Zimbabwe’s fight back and was equally supported by the lower-order.
At Lunch on Day 3, Zimbabwe slumped to 23 for 4. Sri Lankan spinners were wreaking havoc with the new ball and Zimbabwe were running out of options. They just had 10-run lead from the first innings and needed big runs on the board in order to put up a fight. Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams had a mountain to climb post-lunch and needed to bring their best game out.
Williams got a good start but failed to convert into a big score as Rangana Herath cleaned him up with a beauty. Zimbabwe lost half the side early and 100-run mark looked difficult to achieve from this juncture. Zimbabwean batsmen looked bereft of oomph against the wily left-arm spin of Rangana Herath, who had already accounted for four out of five Zimbabwe wickets that were fallen. But Raza played with immense confidence to record his finest Test innings just when his team needed him the most and was equally supported by the tail.
Malcolm Waller played extremely well in both the innings, scoring 36 and 68. Most importantly, he did that a good strike-rate. In the second innings, Waller plundered 68 off 98 deliveries with the help of eight boundaries. Waller and Raza stitched the most crucial partnership of Zimbabwe’s second innings; accounting 144 runs in 35.5 overs.
Waller was quoted in a report from Cricbuzz saying, “I just try to play my cricket in the same way. I always like to be positive. I fell if I do that, I’ going to get my best. Whether it’s ODI cricket or Test cricket, I just like to go out there and play my shots and take strike as much as possible.”
Ervine and Raza were the highest-scorers for Zimbabwe in both the innings respectively. With spinners being a massive threat, both the batsmen did well in confronting Herath well. Ervine scored 92 runs against Herath and Perera in the first innings while Raza 89 runs against the duo.
One of the main reasons behind Zimbabwe’s come back into the game was the success of their lower-order. Zimbabwe’s No. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 contributed 184 runs together in the second innings, barring the extras. Runs from the lower-order are precious and Zimbabwe’s lower-order did a fantastic job. It was a huge contribution, which came under immense pressure and brought Zimbabwe back into the game. In the first innings as well, Zimbabwe’s 6-11 chipped in with 95 vital runs.
The fact that Zimbabwe’s tail supported the accomplished batsman at the other end well was one of the key reasons behind them getting big runs on the board. In the first innings, their Malcolm Waller and Donald Tiripano resisted the Sri Lankan attack at one end. Peter Moor and Graeme Cremer also did well but the most frustrating partnership for Sri Lanka was the one between Ervine and Tiripano. The duo added 74 runs for the ninth-wicket and helped Zimbabwe cross the 350-run mark. Ervine was on 58 when the fifth wicket was fallen and went on to score 160.
In the second innings, Sikandar Raza was the tormentor-in-chief but the lower-order was outstanding as well. Raza was batting on 15 when Peter Moor walked out to bat at 7. Raza went on to score 127, which is also his highest score in Test cricket. Raza wouldn’t have managed to get these many runs had the lower-order failed with bat. Their failure would have compelled Raza to take more risks early on in the innings to garner as many runs as possible and perhaps, cost him his wicket. But, it wasn’t to be. Raza trusted his partners and they didn’t let him down in such an intense situation.
Raza’s partnerships with Moor and Waller steadied the Zimbabwean ship and steered them to a comfortable position. And the 55-run stand between Graeme Cremer and Donald Tiripano further put Zimbabwe in command. The last time when Zimbabwe emerged victorious in a Test match was way back in 2013 against Pakistan and will be eager to have a win under their belt. At 59 for 5 in the second innings, Zimbabwe didn’t stand a chance of winning this game. But with runs on the board, they can now dream of a scintillating victory as Sri Lanka are still 218 runs away from the target with seven wickets in hand at the end of Day 4.
Chasing anything over 300 in Test cricket is huge. Sri Lanka have got off to a solid start but Zimbabwe still have runs to battle for. Their bowlers would be looking forward to chip early wickets on the final day and put Sri Lanka on the back foot. It would be a massive achievement for Sri Lanka if they manage to get the remaining 218 runs on the final day. The highest successful run-chase by Sri Lanka at home came against South Africa back in 2006, when they gunned down the target of 352.
History would be certainly scripted if Sri Lanka manage to get 218 runs or if Zimbabwe scalp seven wickets on Day 5. A lot is at stake for both the teams and one can expect them to come out hard. Zimbabwe have never won a Test match against Sri Lanka and this is their golden chance. As of now, Colombo is all set to witness some nail-biting action on the final day of the one-off Test