Zimbabwe left aggrieved as Sri Lankan domination continues
Zimbabwe were left facing an innings defeat at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Saturday after being forced to follow on 402 runs in arrears in the first Janashakthi National Test.
The tourists then suffered further damage in the second innings, as off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan plucked out two wickets to leave then on 64 for two, still 338 runs behind with two days remaining.
Zimbabwe's second knock had started well enough, as the openers survived the first hour without loss. But teenage opener Hamilton Masakadza (28) then top edged a slog sweep and was well caught by Marvan Atapattu running back from mid-wicket.
Minutes later his partner, Trevor Gripper (10), misread Muralitharan's straighter ball for the second time in the day to be given out caught behind by wicket-keeper Kumar Sangakkara.
Night watchman Travis Friend averted further damage by somehow surviving the remaining seven overs till the close with acting-captain Stuart Carlisle (22 not out), despite frequent appeals from Sri Lanka's hawkish close fielders and some explosive off-breaks from Muralitharan.
Muralitharan picked up six wickets in the day, to pass Malcom Marshall (376) and slip into eighth position in the all-time wicket-takers list, and posed the greatest the threat to the batsmen on a wicket that is getting slower and lower.
He will surely continue to do so when play resumes on Monday morning after a rest day forced upon the cricketing authorities by a government decree that no sport be played on full moon (Poya) holidays.
Zimbabwe will be none to pleased that the pitch will spend a whole day being baked by sun before their resume their apparently hopeless rearguard action.
As it was skipper Carlisle showed frustration afterwards following a number of dubious umpiring decisions that largely fell in favour of the home-side, starting with early let-offs for Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu on the first day and continuing today in the Zimbabwean first innings.
Gavin Rennie (35) was given out lbw sweeping Muralitharan when the ball would have missed off-stump, Grant Flower (0) was dubiously adjudged caught at silly point for a duck shortly after lunch, and Travis Friend (6) received a shocking lbw decision from umpire Riazruddin.
The poor decisions did not all go in Sri Lanka's favour. Andy Flower looked lucky to survive two leg-before shouts on 34 when pinned to his stumps by swerving indippers from Chaminda Vaas and on the second day Kumar Sangakkara looked unlucky to have been given out by the third umpire when television replays appeared inconclusive.
But Zimbabwe lack the talent to survive such misfortune and on balance they had the right to feel aggrieved.
Carlisle, speaking with emotion but also trying to abide by ICC regulations that prevent direct comment on umpiring decisions, said: "As a fielding and batting side we have been very unlucky on certain things and it really hasn' t gone our way. These important factors change games and make it difficult to lift the guys."
He had not given up hope of averting defeat though: "We sure are going to try our hardest to save this game. It is a pretty good batting pitch, but 30s and 40s are not going to do it. Its up to the eight batters left to get really stuck in and get some big partnerships."
Zimbabwe also had themselves to blame for their sorry predicament after some pretty ordinary shots in the morning and early afternoon, as they failed to construct any meaningful partnerships.
Carlisle (10), who was dropped second ball of the day despite an acrobatic effort from Sangakkara, was the first to go, as Jayasuriya held on to a sharp chance at first slip (29 for two).
Gripper (30) became Muralitharan's first wicket when he was snapped up at first slip and with Rennie's lbw decision Zimbabwe were left on 100 for four at lunch.
Grant Flower lasted just four balls afterwards before Craig Wishart (21) and Andy Flower (42) added 41 for the sixth wicket, the largest stand of the innings.
But Wishart then guided a short delivery from Nuwan Zoysa into the hands of third slip and Andy Flower cleaned bowled next over as he two-stepped down the wicket to off-spinner Thilan Samaraweera (146 for seven).
Heath Streak (26 not out) and Friend threatened a recovery but that never materialised after Friend's controversial decision and Zimbabwe were bowled out for 184.