Zimbabwe's third Test tour of Sri Lanka in six seasons ended like the previous two, in a whitewash. It could not have been more one-sided, with Sri Lanka running up totals in excess of 400 in all three Tests, while the best Zimbabwe could offer was 236 - bizarrely, they offered it once in each game. Their best performance was in the final Test, at Galle: even then, they let Sri Lanka recover from a faltering 254 for seven to 418, and collapsed from 153 without loss to the inevitable 236. They lost that game by 315 runs, to follow two thrashings by an innings. On the entire tour, they lost nine matches and won only one, against West Indies in the one-day series preceding the Tests. Their worst humiliation occurred during that same tournament, when Chaminda Vaas dismissed them for 38, the lowest total in any one-day international.
In the Tests, Sri Lanka had eight batsmen who averaged 40, Zimbabwe none. But the real difference between the sides was Muttiah Muralitharan. Not even the redoubtable Andy Flower could find an answer to Murali's tireless mysteries. Flower had averaged 188 in his previous four Tests; in this series, he managed only 13.33. Meanwhile, Murali spun his way to 30 wickets at 9.80, a Sri Lankan series record. He came within a dropped catch of all ten in an innings in the Second Test at Kandy, and at Galle he became the youngest bowler to 400 Test wickets - and in the fewest matches, for good measure.
Zimbabwe were severely handicapped by the lack of a specialist slow bowler, though they should have had Brian Murphy, the leg-spinner and official tour captain. After fracturing a finger on the previous tour of Bangladesh, he missed the one-day series but returned for the first-class programme. When he took nought for 103 against a Board XI, it became clear his hand had not fully healed: he was so short of confidence and form that he dropped out of the First Test and flew home before the Second. Stuart Carlisle continued to deputise as captain, but badly missed the experience of Alistair Campbell and Guy Whittall, left at home for reasons best known to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union.
Sri Lanka also had a selection controversy. Before the Kandy Test, the selectors decided to rest Marvan Atapattu and Buddika Fernando in order to blood youngsters. Several team-mates threatened to withdraw in sympathy. Their captain, Sanath Jayasuriya, protested that neither he nor the coach, Dav Whatmore, had been properly consulted, and that the decision had been made down in Colombo, without knowing the pitch and weather conditions in Kandy. With less than 12 hours to go, the new sports minister, Johnston Fernando, overruled the selection committee, which he later disbanded. Jayasuriya celebrated getting his way with 139, the highest individual score of the series. By the end of the tour, he had led Sri Lanka to eight successive Test wins, a record for any subcontinental team.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Sri Lanka Board XI v Zimbabweans at Moratuwa, Dec 1, 2001
Tour Match: Sri Lanka A v Zimbabweans at Colombo (Police), Dec 3, 2001
Tour Match: Sri Lanka Board XI v Zimbabweans at Colombo (PSS), Dec 21-23, 2001
Match reports for
Tour Match: Chittagong Division v Zimbabweans at Chittagong, Nov 21, 2001
2nd ODI: Bangladesh v Zimbabwe at Dhaka, Nov 25, 2001