|Scorecard:||Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka|
Toss: Sri Lanka, to field
Lunch: Zimbabwe 57/4 (Taibu 10*)
Tea: Zimbabwe 145/8 (Utseya 45*, Hondo 2*)
Close: Zimbabwe 199; Sri Lanka 67/0 in 16 overs (Atapattu 21*, Jayasuriya 43*)
The first day’s play of the First Test match at Harare Sports Club followed a predictable pattern, with the side playing under the name of Zimbabwe being bowled out for 199 and Sri Lanka replying with a capable 67 without loss by the close. The impasse between the Zimbabwe Cricket Union and the dissident players remained unresolved, resulting in Zimbabwe playing a similar side to that which lost the one-day series five-nil. The players selected had 53 Test caps between them.
Marvan Atapattu won the toss for Sri Lanka and put Zimbabwe in to bat on a pitch that looked outstanding for batting. However, in the shorter days of the Zimbabwean winter, past experience has shown that seam and swing bowlers thrive early on, however good the pitch may be. He may also have been thinking that, as he might well anticipate an innings victory, putting the opposition in would split up his team’s fielding stints nicely. About 150 spectators were present at the start, about half of them schoolchildren on outings; this number perhaps doubled during the course of the day.
Chaminda Vaas immediately swung the ball in his first over, but the new Zimbabwe openers, Stuart Matsikenyeri and debutant Brendan Taylor, handled it well and both took a single. Vaas had a fierce appeal in both his first two overs, but umpire Billy Bowden was unmoved. Taylor especially had a nightmare time against Vaas in the one-day series.
Nuwan Zoysa, who took a historic hat-trick with his first three deliveries last time he played on this ground, looked less threatening this time round, although the batsmen played him warily. After six overs the total was still 2, but in a flurry of scoring Matsikenyeri took a two and a single off successive deliveries in Vaas’s fourth over. He then drove Zoysa through extra cover for the first boundary of the innings.
Taylor struggled for runs, but finally in the 12th over he hit a fine cover drive to the boundary off Zoysa, and thereafter looked much more confident. He overtook Matsikenyeri, who became bogged down, and Sri Lanka missed a chance to run him out as he called for a risky single to mid-on and was sent back by Taylor. Farveez Maharoof came on to bowl, a nervy first over in Test cricket, and he conceded 11 runs off it, giving Taylor enough width to play his favourite off-side strokes.
Taylor was looking most impressive when he perhaps became a little too adventurous, and drove Maharoof back down the pitch, only to present him with a sharp return catch. One debutant had dismissed the other. Taylor made 19 off 39 balls, and Zimbabwe were 30 for one, a much more impressive start than most had expected.
Dion Ebrahim never looked comfortable at the wicket, scoring just a risky single off 10 deliveries before he played around a straight ball from Zoysa and was trapped lbw. The Sri Lankan fielding had been very inconsistent during the morning, but it took a brilliant catch, right arm outstretched, by Mahela Jayawardene at second slip to dismiss Matsikenyeri for 10 off Zoysa, reducing Zimbabwe to 35 for three.
Elton Chigumbura had a fortuitous start to his Test career, getting an inside edge to Zoysa that just missed the stumps and beat the keeper on its way to the boundary. He continued to go for his shots, but his inexperience proved his downfall in the over before lunch, bowled by Zoysa. Cramped as he tried to hook the wrong delivery, he only succeeded in sending a low catch to Muttiah Muralitharan just behind the square-leg umpire. He made 14, and Zimbabwe went in to lunch on 57 for four.
Murali had bowled two overs for one run before lunch, bowling a few testing deliveries but generally being handled well by Tatenda Taibu. Taibu continued to play very impressively after lunch, especially notable being two boundary shots off Zoysa, a superb off-drive and a deliberate flick over the slips.
Alester Maregwede failed to score on his Test debut, battling for survival when facing Murali and eventually beaten by his doosra, which straightened off the pitch and trapped him lbw on the back foot. Zimbabwe were now 69 for five.
Vaas returned for a second spell, but looked much less impressive. The ball was scarcely swinging for him now and he bowled several loose deliveries that Taibu could safely put away. But Mluleki Nkala was unable to score off Muralitharan and, after padding away a couple of balls in desperation, let fly an ill-advised sweep, only to miss the ball, fall over and be trapped lbw for 2; 85 for six.
Prosper Utseya, who so often wastes his talent as a batsman, rose to the occasion while Taibu continued to exhibit his magnificent fighting spirit at the other. Utseya played Muralitharan better than anybody apart from his captain, and it was Taibu who fell first, caught at bat-pad and walking without waiting for the umpire’s decision. He had scored a heroic 40, and Zimbabwe were 118 for seven.
Without addition new batsman Blessing Mahwire was out, playing on to Muralitharan off the inside edge, but Mahela Jayawardene missed taking a third catch of the innings when he dropped Douglas Hondo before he had scored, off Zoysa. Utseya continued to thrive, and last ball before tea he hoisted Murali for a high six over long-on, going in on 45 at the interval.
Unfortunately he threw away the chance of a debut fifty after tea, aiming a wild cross-batted swing at Murali immediately after tea and losing his middle stump without addition. It was Murali’s 44th five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
Hondo glided a four past the slips to reach double figures, his first excursion into that realm in Test cricket. Tinashe Panyangara, who had a dismal time with the bat in the one-day series, showed his talent in that department by getting off the mark with a pull for four off Zoysa, and then off-driving the same bowler for 3. He then executed a perfect slog-sweep to hoist Murali over midwicket for six.
Sri Lanka seemed quite at a loss as the last-wicket pair put up the highest partnership of the innings. They quite lost their way as, with some pretty credible strokes, both batsmen mixed solid defence with aggression, until finally Murali fired in an off-stump yorker that removed Hondo for 19. It was his 519th wicket in Test cricket, equalling the record of Courtney Walsh. The gallant Panyangara was left unbeaten with 32, and the last pair had added exactly 50 in 44 minutes.
Muralitharan took the last six wickets to fall, bowling superbly most of the time, but the unsophisticated Zimbabwe batsmen, blissfully ignorant of theory and undue fear of his reputation, were unafraid to hit him hard and high on occasions. Zoysa finished with his three while Vaas, who bowled a superb opening spell but looked rather ordinary thereafter, took none.
Hondo came close to causing a major upset, as Atapattu played defensively to his first ball, which bounced back and over the wicket. His opening over was a good one, while in Panyangara’s second over Atapattu edged a low, very difficult chance between the keeper and first slip. The bowling was accurate, a virtue often missing in the first-choice bowlers of the recent past, if not threatening, making the batsmen work hard for their runs.
By the close the Sri Lankan openers had put on 67 together, scoring at four an over without either breaking loose or looking to break sweat. Atapattu had 21 and Jayasuriya 43 at the close, and they both knew there should be plenty more there for them on the morrow.
(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)