Stumps Zimbabwe 189 for 2 (Kasuza 63, Ervine 55*, Masvaure 55, Kumara 1-37) v Sri Lanka
Watchful half-centuries from openers Prince Masvaure and Kevin Kasuza set Zimbabwe on track for a healthy first-innings total, on a flat Harare Sports Club pitch. Another fifty from Craig Ervine, batting at No. 3, then consolidated Zimbabwe's position and carried them to a scoreline that constituted an excellent first day of Test cricket in over a year.
The hosts only made 189 for 2 in 84 overs, but there was almost a sense that this was a team striving to affirm that they belonged at this level, after the hiatus that had much more to do with administrative flaws, than any fault of the cricketers themselves. Although Sri Lanka never allowed Zimbabwe to get away from them, the hosts certainly had the better of day one.
There was a boundary in the first over, but there would only be 21 in the day. Masvaure whipped Suranga Lakmal to the long leg boundary fourth ball, before settling into a slower rhythm, picking off occasional singles, and waiting for the wide balls that he could cut. Kasuza, playing his first Test, was even more circumspect. He took 17 balls to get off the mark, and 35 deliveries to get into double figures. If anything, his strike rate dipped after that. At lunch, he was 20 off 76 deliveries. By tea, he was 48 off 169.
Both Kasuza and Masvaure revelled in defence. They deadbatted much of the first two sessions, as Sri Lanka's bowlers largely bowled dry and waited for mistakes that didn't actually come. Lahiru Kumara, the quickest of Sri Lanka's seamers, troubled Masvaure a little in the first session, hitting him on the helmet in the 17th over, and then prompting an inside edge the next over only for the ball to whizz past leg stump. But after lunch, even Kumara had become a miserly line-and-length operator. Of the six overs he bowled in the second session, four were maidens. Sri Lanka bowled 30 overs in the afternoon, and Zimbabwe scored only 46 - a scoring rate of only 1.53.
The pair had batted chancelessly through the first session, but Kasuza did provide a half-chance early in the second, mis-hitting a bouncer from Suranga Lakmal almost to Dimuth Karunaratne at midwicket, who dived but couldn't hold on to the tough chance. Masvaure progressed to his maiden half century before tea, getting there off the 123rd delivery he faced. He then slowed down, until he was dismissed by left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya, who had him caught at mid-off for for 55 off 149 balls. Kasuza, whose boundaries largely came off the spinners, via the sweep, didn't get to his fifty until the 178th delivery. He was dismissed late in the day by a Kumara full-toss that reverse-swung and caught him on the thigh, in front of the stumps.
Ervine was more fluent, in comparison to the two openers. His first three boundaries were sixes, all off Dhananjaya de Silva, whom he deposited straight down the ground, over long-on, and over deep cover. He accumulated more efficiently, and was striking at exactly 50 when he completed his half-century, off the very first delivery bowled with the second new ball. He went to stumps on 55 off 116, with Brendan Taylor for company. Taylor had hit a six off Embuldeniya to get off the mark and was 13 off 25 at the close of play.
Sri Lanka's attack will be pleased at having at least contained Zimbabwe on a flat pitch - something they had failed to do against Pakistan in Karachi. And yet, their bowlers were once again unable to create chances on a flat deck. Both Lakmal and Kasun Rajitha were accurate, but were perhaps guilty of not bowling enough balls at the stumps, on a pitch that was offering no lateral movement. Kumara, at least had pace and energy, and deservedly finished with the best figures from the day.
The spinners could get no turn from this track. They bowled tight lines and decent lengths, and will hope that cracks will open up for them, and that the pitch will dry up by the second innings.