“So close, yet so far,” the presenter Roshan Abeysinghe told a dejected but proud Zimbabwean Captain, Graeme Cremer, during the post match ceremony of the one-off Test between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe on Tuesday. Fighting all the odds and against everyone’s expectations, the Zimbabwean team put up an incredible fight in the Test, which they almost won. Unfortunately, Cremer and his boys could not pull off the last gear, letting the Sri Lankans return in the contest and eventually won it by four wickets. Sri Lanka, chasing 388 runs, piled up 221 runs on the final day and the 31-year-old Asela Gunaratne was the architect of the victory, which will certainly be spoken of for a very long time.
Towards the end of the match, when Sri Lanka needed just five more runs, Zimbabwean Captain Cremer came out to bowl the 112th over. The first delivery went for a single. Zimbabwe made a massive appeal for a leg before wicket (LBW) in the second ball; Cremer immediately asked for a DRS review, hoping for a positive result. There was another huge appeal on the fourth delivery bowled by Cremer. The Zimbabweans seemed more than sure that they had finally made a crucial breakthrough this time; that only led to more disappointed faces as it was not out again.
Feel for Cremer
Three overs later, on the penultimate ball off the over, Dilruwan Perera drove the ball beautifully towards the covers to seal the nail-biting Test for Sri Lanka. As soon as Perera scored the winning runs, the camera immediately showed the Lankans celebrating in the dressing room, Sri Lanka’s biggest fan, Percy Abeysekera, came running into the ground and then was seen a disheartened Graeme Cremer, who hid his face with both hands for a few seconds and was certainly trying to sport a smile on his face.
The man had bowled his heart out. In the first innings, he bowled 39. 3 overs followed by 48 overs in the second innings. He finished with figures of 9 for 275 but failed to help Zimbabwe cross the line. This particular result will give Cremer a few sleepless nights but altogether he must be extremely proud of the cricket his boys have displayed in the last couple of weeks.
Zimbabwe, who had never beaten Sri Lanka in Tests, set a target of 388 for the latter to chase in the final innings. A target of 300+ was never chased successfully before either by Sri Lanka or by anyone on the island. When Sri Lanka resumed their innings on the final day, they had Kusal Mendis and Angelo Matthews at the crease. Both the batsmen were removed by Cremer and for once, victory looked around the corner for Zimbabwe. The visitors received three wicket opportunities but wicketkeeping blunders from Regis Chakabva allowed Gunaratne and Niroshan Dickwella to share a match-winning stand of 121 runs.
This was not the first instance when Zimbabweans were sloppy on the field in the series. Although they won the ODI series, the two matches they had lost there were majorly due to their poor skills on the field. All the hard work from the batsmen and bowlers go in vain if the fielders do not do their job well. For a lower-ranked side, scoring 300+ scores in both the innings of a high-intensity Test match against a superior side is a very big deal.
Rise of new Zimbabwe
Prior to Zimbabwe’s 2017 tour of Sri Lanka, they had never beaten the hosts in their backyard in any format. After almost three weeks, Zimbabwe now have an ODI series win against Sri Lanka and a memory where they had almost defeated the opponents even in the longest format. Zimbabwe flew to Sri Lanka with wounds from their losses against smaller nations such as Afghanistan and Scotland. As the tour of Sri Lanka has ended, it has given rise to an all-new Zimbabwe. A team that seems hungrier than ever to win matches and whose body language on the field shows nothing but positivity in the side.
While the victory has restored Sri Lanka’s belief in them as a team, the fight the Zimbabwean boys put up, perhaps, has reinstated every team member’s faith as a cricketer. As Sri Lankans rejoiced the four-wicket win at Colombo on Tuesday, the Zimbabwean team quietly had a group hurdle where without a doubt Cremer put an effort to raise the spirit of his team for having played such good cricket.