Friday, 27 April, 2018

Tail stretches lead to set Sri Lanka 388 to win

Published on: 6:03 pm - Monday | July 17, 2017

Sri Lanka will have to pursue 388 – the highest total ever chased on the island, and the fifth highest overall – after Zimbabwe posted 377 in the third innings, their stubborn tail having hit a further 37 runs after lunch.

Graeme Cremer was the key actor in Zimbabwe’s day so far, making 48 before becoming Rangana Herath’s sixth victim of the innings. He now becomes central to Zimbabwe’s defense of their mammoth score, having been their most penetrative bowler in the first innings.

Zimbabwe’s tail progressed much as the top-order batsmen had, taking risk-free runs into the outfield, and venturing the occasional boundary – generally only off the bad balls. Sri Lanka, who had held their catches until day three, contributed to their role in their own frustration on Monday, dropping two catches. Just before lunch, slip fielder Dimuth Karunaratne failed to hold a tough chance low to his right, reprieving Cremer on 32. Dilruwan Perera, the bowler on that occasion, would also see another chance go down off his bowling. After lunch, Lahiru Kumara fumbled a straight forward catch off Donald Tiripano at mid off. The Cremer-Tiripano ninth-wicket stand was Zimbabwe’s best of the day, yielding 55 runs.

Perera would eventually get Tiripano lbw for 19, before Herath drew a top edge from a sweeping Cremer. But that was not before Chris Mpofu had biffed a six, and the last-wicket pair had added another 16 together.

Herath was the only bowler who sent down genuinely threatening deliveries. One of them dismissed Sikandar Raza for 127, giving the bowler his eighth 10-wicket haul in Tests, and second against Zimbabwe. But for long periods of the session, most of what his teammates did was merely give away risk-free runs.

Raza reached his maiden hundred in the first over of the day, but immediately set about building on Zimbabwe’s lead as if what was probably the personal milestone of his career was merely a distraction from the real job at hand. The sweep and reverse-sweep were popular against the spinners again, but Raza’s most eye-catching boundary of the morning was an assertive straight punch, off the bowling of Suranga Lakmal, in the 76th over.

Waller, meanwhile, had a quiet morning, and was out attempting his first boundary of the day, when he lifted a short, legside Perera delivery into the hands of deep midwicket. Raza was obviously livid with his teammates’ carelessness, but was out himself, 17 runs later, attempting a reverse sweep against Herath only to miss the delivery and have it clatter his stumps.

Sri Lanka will hope that the pitch on which even Zimbabwe’s tailenders looked comfortable will hold up. But a commonly observed trend over the past two years has been Sri Lankan surfaces’ dramatic and inexplicable transformation from carpet roads to bubbling pits of fire, the moment the home team batsmen take guard on them.

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