Testing Times for Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe

Madushka Balasuriya for ESPNcricinfo, January 2020

Zimbabwe 406 and 241 for 7 (Taylor 67, Wiliams 47*, Fernando 2-43) lead Sri Lanka 293 (Mathews 64, Raza 7-113) by 354 runs

A tenth Test fifty from Brendan Taylor, and handy contributions from Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza, had ballooned Zimbabwe’s lead to 354 at stumps on a rain-interrupted fourth day in Harare. But despite the hosts dominating the day’s proceedings, Sri Lanka will fancy their chances to save the Tests after bad light, followed by rain, brought forced an early close.

The rain had earlier washed out the second half of the afternoon session, and upon resumption, it was a bit of surprise to see the Zimbabwe pair of Williams and Tinotenda Mutombodzi walking out to bat. Bad light had stopped play on the previous two days, and despite a theoretical two hours of play left, heavy cloud cover on the horizon had indicated a far shorter realistic playing time.

As it turned out only 5.3 overs were bowled in the final session before play was stopped. In that period Zimbabwe had added just 19 runs, while they lost the wicket of Mutombodzi, who had his leg stump knocked over after playing all around one from Suranga Lakmal.

Williams was left unbeaten on 47, with Donald Tiripano for the company on 1.

In the morning session, it was Taylor’s quickfire 75-ball 67 that ensured Zimbabwe pressed home the advantage they had worked so hard to build the previous day. The most senior of Zimbabwe’s batsman took the attack to Sri Lanka’s bowlers in an innings laced with eight fours and a six.

After Lasith Embuldeniya had got rid of Regis Chakabva early in the day, it was Taylor’s entry that gave Zimbabwe the impetus they needed to push the scoring rate – much like in the first innings. His fifty came off just 55 deliveries.

In fact, Taylor was the only Zimbabwe batsman to give Embuldeniya any trouble, employing his favoured sweep and reverse sweep to make sure the left-arm spinner didn’t settle on a line and length. At one point Dimuth Karunaratne was even forced to deploy seamers from both ends, such was Taylor’s dominance over the spinners.

Taylor, who had been dropped on 30, was eventually dismissed when Lahiru Kumara trapped him lbw. Replays showed there might have been an inside edge, but with the DRS not available, Taylor had to walk.

That wicket though brought together Raza and Williams, who once again proved to be a problem for Sri Lanka’s bowlers. The pair extended the home side’s lead beyond the 300 mark by the time Raza fell, just a few minutes before the afternoon rain.

Their partnership was primarily an exercise in getting runs on the board quickly, and their attacking intent was signalled from the very first delivery after lunch, when Raza drilled a pitched up delivery from Dhananjaya de Silva through the covers for four. A few overs later it was Embuldeniya on the receiving end, picked off twice to the square leg fence by Williams.

In between, the pair were aggressive with their running, which meant their 70-run partnership for the sixth wicket came at just under four runs an over.

Raza was eventually dismissed, trapped lbw by Vishwa Fernando for 34. Fernando, along with Embuldeniya, was the pick of Sri Lanka’s bowlers, both grabbing two wickets apiece.

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