Zimbabwe finished the first day of the final Janashakthi National Test with their self-respect intact. For the first time in the series their bowlers were not bullied into a submission and, when play resumes tomorrow, they will have realistic hopes of bowling out Sri Lanka for a sensible score.
However, for much of the day it had looked like the same old story. Skipper Stuart Carlisle had lost the toss on a slow, dry pitch and Sri Lanka's batsmen were meticulously building the foundations for another mammoth total. Zimbabwe, desperately lacking a specialist spinner, looked well on course for a third successive innings defeat.
However, in the final hour, with the score on 222 for three and umpire David Sheperd hopping uncomfortably in the enervating heat, Grant Flower broke through with his benign-looking left-arm spinners as Mahela Jayawardene was caught and bowled for 74.
Next, Hashan Tillakaratne (3) gloved a catch to wicket-keeper Andy Flower off the gangly batsman-turned-spinner, Douglas Marillier, and Russel Arnold, who had added 97 with Jayawardene, feathered a catch behind shortly after the new ball was taken. Sri Lanka were 236 for six having lost three wickets for 14 runs. Thilan Samaraweera then survived till the close with Chaminda Vaas
For a team now used to astronomical scores, it was as close to a collapse they have come for months. But an end of the day score of 243 for six is better than it looks. The pitch may not be assisting the fast bowlers but it already resembles badly laid crazy paving and even Zimbabwe's part-time spinners proved a handful. Should Sri Lanka pass 300 then the visitors are still left to contemplate the daunting challenge of a facing a revved up Muttiah Muralitharan desperate for his 400th wicket. The ball will literally turn square.
Nevertheless, for the time being, the Zimbabwe team will be looking on the bright side after an entirely unsatisfactory week, during which they have seen their countries political problems heighten and a Test series lost. Considering that background, coupled with the fact they were so handicapped here by not having a specialist spinner, their battling performance was even more commendable.
The heroes of the piece were Grant Flower and Marillier, who together bowled 49 overs for 105 runs and picked up four wickets - not bad for a pair more accustomed to operating in the one-day game.
After the early loss of Jayasuriya who chopped onto his stumps having scored 28, Sri Lanka had crawled to 107 for one when Flower, somewhat fortuitously, broke through.
Atapattu, who had just reached his tenth Test fifty, rocked onto his backfoot and cracked a short ball straight into the midriff of Gavin Rennie fielding at short leg. Somehow, Rennie, who was celebrating his birthday, clung onto the ball as he took evasive action.
Next, Kumar Sangakkara (28), who had already flirted with danger with a top edged pull just before lunch, tried to sweep Marillier and was clean bowled to leave Sri Lanka on 125 for three.
Arnold and Jayawardene then cobbled together their useful 97 run partnership, before the part-timers reeked further damage in the final hour.