Zimbabwe's tour of Sri Lanka turned into a cricketing disaster for them. They lost all their games in the four-nation Singer World Series. Then, in the short Test series which followed, they were comprehensively beaten twice, both times well inside four days, by a confident Sri Lanka, fresh from victory over Australia in the Singer final.
Zimbabwe's weakness, especially against spin, surprised Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who admitted at the end of the series that he had expected much stronger resistance. In the only previous Test series between the two countries, played in Zimbabwe two years earlier, Zimbabwe came out on top, even forcing Sri Lanka to follow on in the second match, although all three Tests ended in draws.
The loss of their best batsman, 39-year-old David Houghton, affected the tourists badly. He would have supplied a fine technique against spin, but he was unavailable for the tour because of his commitments as Worcestershire coach. In Houghton's absence, the captaincy passed from Andy Flower, who had decided that the combined pressures of wicket-keeping, batting in the top order and leading the side were too heavy, to the relatively inexperienced Alistair Campbell. Campbell proved no match for the astute and well-practiced leadership of Ranatunga, and it was evident all too soon who was the master and who the pupil.
Zimbabwe's batsmen were undone by the spinners Muttiah Muralitharan and Jayantha Silva. Off-spinner Muralitharan took 14 wickets, and finished five short of becoming the first Sri Lankan bowler to take a century of wickets in Tests, while Silva proved an ideal foil, his left-arm leg-breaks claiming 13 wickets at just 7.69 apiece. Asanka Gurusinha and Hashan Tillekeratne were the most successful batsmen, but so weak was the opposition that Sri Lanka pulled off victories by an innings in the First Test and ten wickets in the Second without needing to score above 350. Ranatunga afterwards claimed that these wins, following Sri Lanka's triumphs in the World Cup and the recent Singer tournament, proved that his side were on course to become Test champions by the year 2000. But he needed firmer evidence than this to support his case.
Before the Tests began, Zimbabwe had a scare when life-savers had to rescue Campbell and fast bowler Henry Olonga after they were swept out to sea while swimming. A bodyguard who was with them had to be treated in hospital.
A. D. R. Campbell (Mashonaland) (captain), A. Flower (Mashonaland) (vice-captain), E. A. Brandes (Mashonaland), M. H. Dekker (Matabeleland), C. N. Evans (Mashonaland), G. W. Flower (Mashonaland), W. R. James (Matabeleland), H. K. Olonga (Matabeleland), A. H. Shah (Mashonaland), B. C. Strang (Mashonaland), P. A. Strang (Mashonaland), H. H. Streak (Matabeleland), A. R. Whittall (Matabeleland), G. J. Whitall (Matabeleland), C. B. Wishart (Mashonaland).
Manager: M. P. Jarvis. Assistant manager: D. H. Streak.
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