April 24, 2000

Sri Lankan Fast Bowlers Lead the Way

Contrary to popular opinion it was the Sri Lankan fast bowlers and not the spinners that worried the Zimbabwean batsmen at Welegadera Stadium in Kurunegala today. Despite a fine seventh wicket partnership of 144 between Andy Blignaut (93) and Daniel Peacock (62), Zimbabwe are in trouble at the end of the first day of this unofficial Test match, finishing on 244 for 7.

Indika Gallage and the young Kaushalya Weereratne from Kandy troubled all the batsmen. Extracting movement off the seam, especially with the new ball, and surprising the batsmen with occasional lift, they reduced the Zimbabweans to 51-4 in the morning session. Then when they returned to the attack in the evening they took the second new ball and struck again. Zimbabwe having recovered to 235-5 slipped to 244-7 at the close.

Andy Blignaut will be particularly disappointed with himself. Having done all the hard work and with only three overs remaining in the day, he took the attack to the Sri Lankan bowlers. Taking 13 off Weereratne's 17th over he got carried away and was bowled by Gallage whilst trying another expansive drive. Nevertheless he deserves praise for a fantastic innings. Positive from the start he hit the ball cleanly and powerfully throughout. Most importantly he played straight, the majority of his 13 fours and two sixes being hit between cover and wide mid-on.

Coming to the wicket with his team in dire straits at 91-5 he turned around the innings for the Zimbabweans with the assistance of Daniel Peacock. Peacock was the more conservative of the two. Slightly open chested and awkward looking in his stance he worked extremely hard for his 62 runs, facing 213 balls and occupying the crease for nearly five hours. Peacock's conservatism did not matter however because of the positive strokeplay of his partner. Blignaut was never afraid to hit the ball over the top and did so on numerous occasions. Whilst the pair batted throughout the afternoon the spinners were made to look pretty ordinary. Neither of the trio of Bandara, Samaraweera and Herath extracted much turn from the pitch.

Indeed at the time the Zimbabwean's greatest threat appeared to be their running between the wickets. Malinga Bandara should have run out Andy Blignaut just prior to his fifty. Sent back by his partner, Blignaut was well short of the crease when Bandara hesitated and then fumbled the ball at backward square. An offence that induced a fearful rollicking from recent Test cap, Tillekaratne Dilshan, in the gully.

Embarrassingly for Dilshan he missed the next run out just two overs later. This time fielding at backward square to Daniel Peacock he fumbled the ball and the batsmen survived. The fielding lapse meant that Daniel Peacock had been missed twice. Crucially Chamara Silva dropped him just before lunch in the slips. Possibly a crucial miss in a game that could well be low scoring due the uneven bounce of this wicket.

However just when it looked like the honours would be shared at the close, the impressive Gallage slipped a ball through the defence of Blignaut. Two balls later Peacock's marathon came to an end when he too was bowled, this time by Weereratne, who finished the day with 4- 80.

The prized wicket of Blignaut was just reward for Indika Gallage who bowled splendidly throughout the day, but especially in the morning session. Removing the unlucky Gavin Rennie (0) with just his second ball he went on to trouble all the batsmen. The tall fast bowler with a high action consistently hit the seam and frequently surprised the batsmen some extra bounce. Neil Ferreira (35) who had held the innings together in the morning ducked into a bouncer from Gallage and was forced to change his helmet.

As is often the case the best bowler did not pick up the wickets. Kaushalya Weereratne picking up three wickets in the morning session, including the prized wicket of in-form Mark Vermeulen (15). Later on he had Dion Ebrahim (12) caught behind and Craig Wishart (6) caught in the gully.

On a pitch that is uneven in bounce and unlikely to get any better, Zimbabwe can relax tonight knowing that things could have been a lot worse. At least they have runs on the board and they have some batsmen to come. Sri Lanka will be kicking themselves for missing Peacock before lunch. Nevertheless they have an extremely powerful batting line up, all of whom will be looking forward to a bat against the Zimbabweans. With Pakistan and South Africa coming here in June the stakes are high.