First Test

Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka

Special Correspondent

At Harare, May 6, 7, 8, 2004. Sri Lanka won by an innings and 240 runs. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debuts: E. Chigumbura, A. Maregwede, T. Panyangara, B. R. M. Taylor, P. Utseya; M. F. Maharoof.

The one-day embarrassments turned into a three-day humiliation once the Test series began. With the dispute between the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and the 15 dissidents unresolved, the home team was selected from the pool of players who had taken part in the one-day series, plus Mahwire and Vermeulen. In the first and last one-day games, this team had proved moderately competitive, but in Test cricket there is no hiding place. The eleven that took the field had 53 previous Test caps between them, and included five debutants. Taibu - the only man apart from Ebrahim whose Test career ran into double figures - became the youngest-ever Test captain at 20 years 358 days. The result was Zimbabwe's heaviest Test defeat, a record that held for nine days.

Atapattu continued his habit of winning the toss and putting Zimbabwe in, despite the benign appearance of the pitch. The openers began with great caution, taking two runs off the first six overs, but to put on 30 against quality bowling was commendable. Only Taibu, however, had the ability and experience to do more than make a start, scoring a determined 40 before walking for a bat-pad catch. The top-scorer, with 45, was Prosper Utseya, who had been chosen for his accurate off-spin but was wicketless throughout this tour. Muralitharan mopped up the last six, and drew level with Courtney Walsh on 519 Test wickets.

Hondo and Tinashe Panyangara, who had shared a spirited last-wicket stand of 50, caused Sri Lanka some concern for two or three overs when they took the new ball; after that it was one-way traffic. The bowlers exhibited enthusiasm and reasonable accuracy, but had little more to offer as Atapattu and Jayasuriya put on 281, a first-wicket record against Zimbabwe. Jayasuriya scored 157 off 147 balls without ever looking to be forcing the pace. The breakthrough finally came on the second afternoon when Taibu took off his pads to bowl his skiddy medium-pacers, only to get his third delivery to bounce unexpectedly from the pitch, off Jayasuriya's gloves and into the gully. Atapattu, leaden-footed, was bowled by the second new ball for 170, during a middle-order slump of five for 45. The later batsmen scored usefully, if gratuitously, on the third morning to give Sri Lanka a first-innings lead of 342.

So unbalanced were the teams that the main question was not even whether Zimbabwe could survive the day, but when Muralitharan would break the record - if he had the chance. There were only six overs to go before lunch when Zimbabwe batted, but after just four Atapattu gave Murali the ball, without immediate results.

Either side of the break, Zoysa enjoyed an inspired spell: four for one in 21 balls, reducing Zimbabwe to 18 for five. Maregwede and Nkala fought back, though, and had just drawn level with Zimbabwe's lowest Test score, 63, when Nkala played forward to Murali and was caught off pad and bat at silly mid-off, giving himself a footnote in history as Muralitharan's 520th Test wicket. The Sri Lankans erupted and embraced their hero. However, of the 200 spectators present to witness the record, few appreciated its true significance.

Murali was in line for a hat-trick, as he took a sharp return catch from Maregwede with his next delivery, but he hurt his finger in the act and had to go off for treatment; he bowled one more wicketless over on his return. As in the first innings, there was some courageous hitting by the last pair, Hondo and Panyangara, which allowed Zimbabwe to avoid the extra indignity of dismissal for under 100. Panyangara finally gave Mahela Jayawardene his sixth catch of the game, one short of the Test record, but his own all-round form was one of the few positive factors Zimbabwe could take from this match.

Man of the Match: M. Muralitharan.

© John Wisden & Co