Sri Lanka poised for series clinching win on fourth day
Zimbabwe were left with their backs firmly to the wall in Sri Lanka's hill country capital on Sunday night with the hosts poised for a series clinching win on the fourth day of this second Test.
With Sri Lanka scoring 505, the sixth time in their last seven Test matches that they have scored 500 plus, Zimbabwe were left facing a daunting 269 deficit when they finally started their second innings in the evening.
Chaminda Vaas promptly plucked out the middle stump of teenage opener Hamilton Masakadza with a curving inswinger first ball and so nearly dismissed captain Stuart Carlisle lbw in the same over.
However, the Sri Lankans, now pumped up after growing needle between the two sides, had zeroed in on a tendency to work the ball in the air when playing on the leg-side and Carlisle was well caught behind square by Marvan Atapattu for nine to leave Zimbabwe on 16 for two.
Six overs later, after a hostile new ball spell from Nuwan Zoysa, Muttiah Muralitharan was brought into the attack. Still in pain having torn ligaments in his ring finger on the first evening, he started tentatively but nevertheless proved a handful in his eight overs.
Trevor Gripper (21) was close to being trapped lbw in the off-spinners first over before being fatally deceived in his third over when he failed to pick a straighter ball that hurried onto his pads (51 for three).
The wicket was his tenth of the match and carried Muralitharan to another record as he eclipsed New Zealand's Richard Hadlee to became the first man in Test cricket to take more than nine ten-fors.
Zimbabwe's two left-handers, Gavin Rennie, who had a verbal spat with Vaas during the left-armer's opening burst, and the out of sorts Andy Flower, survived till the close but the visitors were left facing a Himalayan challenge to save the game still needing 201 runs to avoid a second consecutive innings defeat.
In the morning, Zimbabwe had enjoyed their best session of the series when they whittled out three top order wickets before the luncheon interval, including those of Hashan Tillakaratne and Thilan Samaraweera, both averaging in excess of 100 in 2001.
Tillakaratne (37) was unfortunate when he was adjudged lbw by umpire Venkatraghavan to Heath Streak when replays showed the ball had not come back enough to hit his off-stump. Then, Samaraweera (17) feathered a leg-side catch to Andy Flower to leave Sri Lanka on 365 for six.
Russel Arnold though had started the day well, swapping the adhesive style of yesterday for a more adventurous approach. He cruised to his eighth Test fifty, hitting five boundaries, but then failed to capitalise on an excellent opportunity to score a hundred.
Grant Flower, the surprise package of the Zimbabwean bowling attack, who may look benign but picked up three top order wickets, induced an edge to slip after a defensive prod and Arnold was out for 71 (388 for seven).
But the end of the frontline batsman singled the start of fresh frustration for Zimbabwe, as Vaas and Charitha Fernando painstakingly compiled a 111 run eighth wicket stand.
Vaas followed his unbeaten 74 in Colombo with an equally impressive innings of 72 not out. With Fernando, playing his debut innings, looking assured at the other end, it Vaas's first Test century beckoned.
But, on the brink of tea, part-time leg-spinner Masakadza collected his first wicket in Test cricket as Fernando smashed a long hop straight to Travis Friend on the mid-wicket fence to be dismissed for 45.
Next, in the first over after tea, the Sri Lankan innings closed as Zoysa ran himself out in lackadaisical fashion and Muralitharan played straight across a straight ball.
After the close, match referee Cammie Smith spoke to both managers, apparently calling for the players to cool down after the first signs of increased friction between the two teams in the Zimbabawean second innings, when Vaas and Rennie had openly exchanged words.