Atapattu and Sangakkara pile on a record stand
Sri Lanka 443 for 1 (Atapattu 202*, Sangakkara 186*) lead Zimbabwe 228 by 215 runs
If anybody still had any doubts about the lack of viability of this Zimbabwe team at Test level, they must surely have been eliminated by the second day's play at Harare. Marvan Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara completely dominated the day, with Atapattu ending unbeaten on 202, while Sangakkara was 186 not out at the close as Sri Lanka cruised to 443 for 1.
It was a day of batting records which came all too easily against a Zimbabwe bowling attack which never gave up trying, but faced a hopeless task given their limited skill and experience on such a good batting pitch. Just one wicket fell during the day, that of Sanath Jayasuriya, although four catches went down and a run-out chance was missed.
Atapattu and Jayasuriya put together another century stand, but this was overshadowed by the second-wicket pair of Atapattu and Sangakkara, whose partnership has so far amassed 343. By the close Atapattu had passed 200 against Zimbabwe for the third time, while Sangakkara was on the verge of his own double-century.
Sri Lanka, resuming at 18 without loss from 13 overs overnight, soon showed their intent in the morning. The first over, bowled by Tinashe Panyangara, went for nine runs, including two smooth boundaries from Atapattu, a glide off his hips and a classic off-drive. Zimbabwe had clearly done their homework on Jayasuriya, bowling a tight line and length, and setting the appropriate fields to make sure he did not profit from his favourite cuts and flicks off the legs. Apart from two driven boundaries in one Tawanda Mupariwa over, Jayasuriya resembled Prometheus in chains.
In contrast, the bowlers had little idea how to bowl to Atapattu, who played much more freely, especially his elegant drives, which were timed to perfection and with minimal effort. Atapattu had reached his half-century, and the total was exactly 100, when the first wicket fell. Jayasuriya, on 48 from 95 balls, was tempted by a wide one from Mluleki Nkala, and he fell into the trap, driving and edging it through to Tatenda Taibu.
Zimbabwe then missed the chance of a further wicket, just three balls later, when Sangakkara drove Nkala low but straight to mid-off. Panyangara caught the ball, but as his elbows hit the ground it popped out again. Sangakkara then began to lay his foundation with ominous certainty.
The afternoon session was one of steady accumulation, interrupted now and then with a few classic strokes from both batsmen. The Zimbabwe bowlers kept the ball well up to the bat and, although consistent, they lacked the penetration needed on this outstanding batting pitch.
Atapattu's century came off 161 balls and, as usual, he looked good for more. When he had made it to 104, it meant he had reached 1000 Test runs against Zimbabwe, in only his 15th innings. Sangakkara in turn progressed towards his century, and as the bowlers tired, the batsmen then really cashed in.
Two more catches went down, both off Atapattu, shortly after he had reached 150. He pulled Nkala straight to midwicket, where the chance was put down, and then drove Mupariwa straight and very powerfully, but the bowler failed to get a hand to it and took a painful blow on the shin instead. Sangakkara also skyed an attempted hit over the infield, but escaped.
Taibu surprisingly delayed taking the second new ball, and Mark Vermeulen even came on to bowl some high-flighted offbreaks, but the batsmen refused to contemplate suicide. The second new ball was finally taken in the 88th over, but the only difference was that it came off the bat more quickly. Another hard catch went down, Atapattu pulling Douglas Hondo to midwicket on 184, and as Zimbabwe's bowlers wilted towards the end, the runs came at a greater rate.
As the score piled up, the pair registered the highest Test partnership against Zimbabwe, overtaking the previous record of 313, by Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq for Pakistan at Sheikhupura in 1996-97. There was still time for Atapattu to reach his sixth Test double-century - his second in two Tests on this ground. If this is a sign of things to come, there could be some further records tomorrow which might prove very embarrassing for Test cricket.