COLOMBO. — Sikandar Raza closed in on his maiden hundred and put Zimbabwe in sight of a first Test cricket victory against Sri Lanka on the third day of their only match at the R Premadasa Stadium yesterday.
The touring side, who also won their maiden one-day international series against Sri Lanka which finished last week, reached 252-6 in their second innings at the close of play for an overall lead of 262 runs.
The 31-year-old Raza was unbeaten on 97 for his highest test score and has added 107 for the unbroken seventh wicket with Malcolm Waller, who remained 57 not out.
Sri Lankan spin spearhead Rangana Herath (4-85) had helped the hosts to reduce Zimbabwe to 59-5 at one stage but Raza and Peter Moor, who made 40, launched a fightback with a stand of 86 for the sixth wicket.
Earlier, Zimbabwe captain and leg-spinner Graeme Cremer (5-125) took his maiden five-wicket haul to help his side to restrict Sri Lanka to 346 after the hosts had resumed on 293-7.
Sri Lanka have been hampered by a left hamstring injury to all-rounder Asela Gunaratne, who has been told he needs a recovery period of up to 10 days and will not bowl or field in the remainder of the ongoing test.
All through the tour, Sri Lanka have had Zimbabwe cornered, and games have threatened to follow a familiar, one-sided form. Yet all through the tour, Zimbabwe have found ways of resisting, of stubbornly holding out, and eventually fighting back.
Day three at Khettarama saw perhaps their most impressive turnaround yet. Having eked out a 10-run first-innings lead in the morning, Zimbabwe found themselves 23 for 4, then 59 for 5. But for the remainder of the day, the middle order would rally around an adventurous Raza, and turn the match in dramatic fashion.
Having played definitive hands in Zimbabwe’s ODI series, Raza stood on the verge of a vital maiden Test ton, finishing the day on 97 off 158 balls. Peter Moor struck 40 and joined him for a sixth-wicket stand of 86.
Waller did even better, cracking 57 off 76 deliveries in an unbroken seventh-wicket partnership worth 107. All this means that Zimbabwe now control the Test, and may even have put themselves in a position to pull off the unexpected result of the year.
Overturning Sri Lanka in ODIs was surprising enough, but in Tests, the hosts may not have dreamed they would be challenged by the lowest ranked team — one they have consistently thrashed over the past two decades.
But with Zimbabwe’s lead at 262 their target is already a challenging one. If the score grows by another 100 runs, could become a near-impossible pursuit.
Unusually, Sri Lanka have caught well in this Test, but the bowling has been consistently menace-free. Of the 16 Zimbabwe wickets to have fallen, Rangana Herath has claimed nine.
For the second half of day three, he seemed the only bowler capable of beating the Zimbabwe batsmen, and had he not run riot in the first session, Sri Lanka’s position would have been even bleaker.
Dilruwan Perera was not miserly enough for a bowler who isn’t taking wickets, Lahiru Kumara’s lines have been too wayward, and Suranga Lakmal has been modest in unhelpful conditions.
Sri Lanka are also missing the bowling of Asela Gunaratne, whose tweaked hamstring had substantially hampered his running between the wickets, and now has kept him off the field in the second innings. — Reuters-Cricinfo.