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Toss: Sri Lanka.
Seldom has a Test match had as sensational a start as this one. No bowler had previously taken a hat-trick with his first three deliveries in a Test, or as early as its second over, which is when Zoysa accomplished Sri Lanka's first hat-trick in their 95th Test. Gripper, opening in place of Rennie, padded up to a ball that nipped back, Goodwin got a faint touch to one that lifted and moved away, and finally Johnson, moving forward and across, was also given lbw by umpire Bucknor. Unfortunately, only the first two parts of the hat-trick were recorded for posterity because a power failure interrupted television coverage.
Only India had lost more wickets without a run on the board at the start of a Test innings - four against England at Headingley in 1952 - and Australia were the only other side to have lost their first three wickets for nought, against England at Brisbane in 1950-51. But both these instances had been in the third innings of the match, in difficult conditions. While the Harare pitch had been expected to help bowlers early on, Zimbabwe had not been unduly concerned when put in. There was less grass on it than there had been against South Africa, or in the one-day matches against Australia, and Sri Lanka's bowling was not considered as lethal as either of those attacks. In the event, there was just enough movement for the ball to beat the bat, and this proved crucial. Zimbabwe could not have had two better men than the Flower brothers to stand in the breach, and they survived until lunch. Andy, in fact, stayed almost to the close, when he received a harsh lbw decision, but he had little support after Campbell, who had batted well, paid the price for playing across the line. Ironically, Zoysa posed little threat after his initial breakthrough. Vaas was generally more dangerous and took his 100th wicket in 33 Tests when Strang was brilliantly caught by Dilshan in the gully off a thick edge.
Jayawardene and Dilshan took Sri Lanka well ahead with a fourth-wicket stand of 178, with the latter going on to a fine century in his second Test. He showed admirable restraint as Zimbabwe curtailed his favourite pull and cover drive and, although he played and missed frequently, he batted for a minute under eight hours, facing 343 balls and hitting 18 fours. However, the Zimbabweans did at last discover how to dismiss Atapattu; they ran him out twice in the match. In the first innings he was undone by Johnson's throw from the fine-leg boundary as he attempted a third run.
Zimbabwe, 258 behind with more than two days remaining and the weather good, appeared to have nothing to play for, especially when they lost three wickets before the close. But, on the fourth day, Goodwin and Andy Flower showed tremendous fighting spirit and, as they survived well into the afternoon session, the Sri Lankans grew increasingly frustrated. So hysterical did their appeals become that the match referee, Jackie Hendriks, spoke to them during the tea interval, after which their behaviour was impeccable.
By then, however, Zimbabwe's defences had been breached in a way that caused great offence. Goodwin and Flower had not long reached their century partnership when Goodwin played the last delivery of Vaas's over, the fifth before tea, back to the bowler. Vaas, rather than pick the ball up, kicked it back towards the slips, Goodwin himself aiming a light-hearted kick as it passed him before he wandered down the pitch to do some "gardening". But the umpire had not called "over", and Dilshan, picking up the ball, threw down his wicket.
Flower then found a staunch partner in Whittall, and they took the match into the final day, adding 125 before the Zimbabwean captain was caught at backward point off Jayasuriya, who wrapped up the tail in his next 14 balls with the help of two dubious lbw decisions. Flower had batted seven hours for his sixth Test hundred, a Zimbabwean record, faced 304 balls and hit just eight boundaries. Sri Lanka needed only 35, and failed to take their target seriously at first; the fired-up Zimbabwean bowlers and fielders embarrassed them by claiming four wickets, three of them for Brent, before Kaluwitharana hit the winning boundary.