A marathon innings of 92 not out by the former Sri Lankan captain, Angelo Mathews, aided by Kusal Mendis with 80, were the main features of a dogged batting display by the tourists on the third day of the first Test match against Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club today.
There was a good weekday crowd of several hundred people to watch a rather slow day’s play.
Sri Lanka began the day at their overnight score of 42 for the first wicket; Dimuth Karunaratne had 12 and Mendis six.
The bowling was opened by Kyle Jarvis and Donald Tiripano.
Both batsmen appeared to be in good touch from the start, Karunaratne driving Jarvis straight for four and Mendis clipping Tiripano to the midwicket boundary, both beautifully timed strokes.
For a long time they concentrated on working the field for ones and twos, rotating the strike between right- and left-hander, without being in much trouble from the bowlers, apart from playing and missing occasionally.
Sean Williams continued to rely on these two bowlers for 40 minutes without luck, and then replaced Jarvis with Victor Nyauchi.
Nyauchi did the trick, as Karunaratne tried to clip a delivery between mid-on and midwicket, only for Ainsley Ndlovu at short midwicket to snatch a superb one-handed catch low to his right.
The Sri Lanka captain was out for 37, off 76 balls with four fours, and the score was 92 for two.
Ndlovu was then put on to bowl for the first time in Test cricket but, perhaps affected by nerves, most of his first over was far too short and he was fortunate that Mendis’ pulls to midwicket only cost him eight runs, which brought up the team 100.
His second over was much better, and Mendis had to play out a maiden.
When Mendis had 35, Ndlovu had a very close lbw appeal rejected.
Mathews was now in, and he took his time settling down.
Just before lunch there was an unfortunate accident, as Mendis pulled a ball from Ndlovu and struck Kevin Kasuza on the side of his helmet while fielding at short-leg.
He sustained soft tissue injury in the skull although a concussion test was negative, while a CT scan also ruled out internal injury.
At lunch the score was 124 for two wickets, with Mendis on 43 and Matthews 14.
Jarvis bowled again after lunch for half an hour, bowling well but having no luck.
When he was rested he had bowled 19 overs out of 51 in the innings so far, and Williams was running the risk of over-bowling him.
Mendis reached a secure fifty off 118 balls, while Mathews remained cautious.
Sikandar Raza came on to bowl his off-breaks, and Mendis hit him for three leg-side fours off successive deliveries.
Mendis scored 80 off 163 balls before Nyauchi picked up another wicket, having him caught by Brendan Taylor at slip, slashing at an off-side ball with the total now 184 for three wickets.
Dinesh Chandimal came in and looked eager to get after the bowling from the start, and forced a couple of uncharacteristic fumbles in the field from the Zimbabweans.
Just before tea Mathews brought up a dogged fifty, which took him 154 balls, and at the interval the score was 205 for three wickets, Matthews 51 and Chandimal six.
Sri Lanka began the final session slowly, except for an unexpected six from Mathews and the near run-out of Chandimal, who escaped due to a poor throw-in from the field.
He did not survive long, however, as on 12 he chipped a ball on to his boot and then back to the bowler Williams, the catch being confirmed by the camera; 227 for four.
Zimbabwe had decided to delay the second new ball and the wicket vindicated their decision.
Dhananjaya de Silva came in next and soon got the score moving briskly.
When the second new ball was taken it proved to be ineffective, and a steady partnership developed between Mathews and de Silva, with the former continuing his anchor role while the latter made most of the runs.
In contrast to the first two days, the afternoon sessions were played in sunshine, which no doubt made it easier for the batsmen.
No more wickets fell, and when the teams left the field just after five o’clock in bright sunshine Mathews was still there, still short of his century with 92 after batting for the best part of five hours, while the more enterprising de Silva had 42.
Zimbabwe had bowled with persistence and most of their fielding was good, though a couple of run-out chances were squandered.
Sri Lanka are now only 63 runs behind the Zimbabwe first-innings total of 358 and still have six wickets in hand, which gives them potentially much the stronger position in this match.