Zimbabwe 272 and 180 for 7 (Ervine 65*, Herath 5 for 46) trail Sri Lanka 504 and 258 for 9 dec (Karunaratne 88, Kusal Perera 62, Cremer 4-91, Mumba 3-67) by 311 runs
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Rangana Herath became the first bowler to take 50 wickets in 2016 © Associated Press
Three days between Tests is hardly enough for teams to work on their weaknesses. But this was Zimbabwe’s opportunity to prove they had learnt from their mistakes from the first Test or at least the first innings here. Going by the evidence of the 45 overs they batted on Wednesday, the fourth day, they didn’t.
Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain who on Monday became just the third bowler after Muttiah Muralitharan and Dale Steyn to complete five-wicket hauls against all Test nations, picked five wickets to leave Zimbabwe in a spin. Along the way, he became the first bowler to take 50 wickets in 2016. Chasing an improbable 491, set about by Sri Lanka’s declaration on 258 for 9 midway through the second session, they slumped to 180 for 7, with first-innings half-centurion Craig Ervine and Donald Tiripano at the crease.
The first three wickets fell in identical fashion: batsmen pressing forward and playing either outside the line or inside the line without any conviction, almost like they were searching for the ball without quite reading the trajectory. The deliveries that got Brian Chari and Hamilton Masakadza were arm-balls, while another flighted delivery spun away from the rough to take Tino Mawoyo’s edge off a tentative push to Dhananjaya de Silva at slip.
Sean Williams decided the best way to score runs was to step out to the spinners. He was lucky that a couple of mishits landed safe. But the visible difference in his approach was that there were no half-measures, like he exhibited in fetching a slog sweep off Dilruwan Perera from outside off over deep midwicket. Having weathered the early storm against spin, he paid the price for relaxing against the pacers; an ugly waft away from the body resulting in a thick edge to first slip off Lahiru Kumara.
Flight wasn’t the only component of spin that troubled Zimbabwe. Dhananjaya de Silva, handed the ball perhaps just to shake things up after Dilruwan kept getting picked off for runs, had a wicket in his second over when Malcolm Waller looked to drive, much like he did in the first innings, to a ball that drifted away to take the edge through to the wicketkeeper.
Not even the loss of five wickets in the session curbed the instincts of Zimbabwe’s batsmen. Peter Moor kept going after the bowlers and struck them well for as long as he was around, before jabbing with hard hands to be caught at silly point. Then came perhaps the ball of the innings when Herath got one to drift-in and spin away to square Cremer up and hit the stumps. It was quite fitting that the special delivery delivered his seventh ten-wicket haul in Tests.
Meanwhile, Ervine, it appeared, was batting on a completely different tangent, playing deliveries on merit while taking toll of the half-trackers. Unlike in the first innings, they will need him and Cremer, who brought up a maiden Test ton in the first Test, to carry on for as possible to at least ensure their margin of defeat isn’t identical to the first Test.
The first session was attritional, with Sri Lanka happy to take their time to grind Zimbabwe. Resuming on 102 for 4, they added 75 in the first session to leave Dimuth Karunaratne facing the prospect of bringing up his fifth Test ton. Asela Gunaratne, the other overnight batsman, made a sparkling 39, driving from the rough and playing with a degree of authority, before falling lbw to Tiripano on 39.
Sri Lanka’s intent to up the scoring after in the second session was evident from the outset. Given a license to attack, in line with his natural game, Kusal Perera was in the mood to frustrate Zimbabwe as he swept, swiped and reverse-swept his way to a half-century off just 61 balls to swell Sri Lanka’s second-innings total.
Suranga Lakmal too helped himself like he would in a buffet, picking away leg stump half-volleys and half-trackers to the boundary in an entertaining 47-run ninth-wicket stand off just 37 deliveries. Herath declared when Kusal holed out to long-on for 62, thereby giving themselves a day-and-a-half to dismiss Zimbabwe. Going by Zimbabwe’s travails against spin, Sri Lanka’s bowlers may have just earned themselves close to day’s rest on Thursday to go with a 2-0 sweep that looks set to go into Herath’s captaincy book barring for thunderstorms on the final day.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo