Zimbabwe 352 for 6 (Williams 107, Raza 72, Taylor 62, Lakmal 2-31) v Sri Lanka
Sean Williams produced a consummate captain’s knock, scoring his second Test century, and Zimbabwe, with cameos from Brendan Taylor and Sikandar Raza, seized control of proceedings on the first day of the second Harare Test. While Williams’ dismissal in the final hour of play gave a slightly more balanced look to proceedings, the hosts still ended the day on 352 for 6 with Regis Chakabva and debutant Tinotenda Mutombodzi at the crease, their partnership unbeaten on 28.
For Sri Lanka, on a flat, dry surface that offered little assistance to their trio of seamers, it was the dependable Suranga Lakmal that was nevertheless the catalyst for their most incisive period of play, as he ended the day with two wickets. Dhananjaya de Silva too picked up a pair.
Williams was aided for a majority of his stay by Raza, the pair coming together with Zimbabwe in a spot of bother at 133 for 4. Lakmal’s probing lines and ability to seam the ball both ways caused them a few problems early on, but once they weathered that storm they found runs easier to come by. Both Williams and Raza utilised the sweep to good effect, while they were also unafraid to use their feet to smother spin and play down the ground.
It helped that early on in their partnership – which would eventually yield 159 runs – Lasith Embuldeniya was forced off the field, having copped a blow on his bowling hand attempting to take a difficult chance offered up by Raza. Embuldeniya would later return to bowl, seemingly without much discomfort.
During this period, it was Williams who was by far the more aggressive of the two, regularly using his feat against the spinners, with the nature of the pitch such that anything full was there to be driven. Williams lofted Embuldeniya down the ground for six more than once in this manner.
Raza for his part was more selective. Though an entertaining period of play did see him attempt a series of pulls off Lahiru Kumara to varying degrees of success, culminating in one being creamed for six over the midwicket boundary.
It was Kumara, however, that got the last laugh, as one pull too many saw Raza find an onrushing Angelo Mathews in the deep, who completed a good diving catch.
Williams though would continue to hold firm putting on 32 more runs with Chakabva, before a tired attempt at a slog sweep against Dhananjaya saw his stumps rattled, bringing a disappointing end to what had been an outstanding innings.
Earlier, Brendan Taylor’s run-a-ball 62 had resurrected Zimbabwe’s innings after they had crawled to 50 for 2 at the end of the 20th over, in danger of squandering the best of the batting conditions. Off just his sixth delivery Taylor signalled his intent, coming down the track to Embuldeniya, and lofting him for six over long-off.
On a pitch that had shown some bite and turn, most of the Zimbabwean batters had for the most part done well to prevent Sri Lanka’s spinners from settling. It was first Craig Ervine, then Taylor, and eventually Williams who took it upon themselves to play the role of aggressor, either coming down the track, sweeping or cutting.
It didn’t help Sri Lanka’s cause that the pitch seemed to slow quite a bit as the day wore on with the seamers gradually losing their potency. It raised the question as to whether the think tank had missed a trick in choosing to bring in an extra seamer in Vishwa Fernando, as opposed to the spin of Lakshan Sandakan.
It also looked to be a concerted plan from Zimbabwe to target Sri Lanka’s spinners – and Embuldeniya in particular – as Ervine, in his brief cameo had also launched the young left-arm spinner down the ground for six and a four.
Ervine had looked in good touch, but was dismissed after failing to read a slider from Dhananjaya that caught the inside edge of his bat on the way to short leg.
Prince Masvaure had nicked a wide one from Kumara through to the keeper, to give Sri Lanka their first breakthrough of the day.
Despite the fall of wickets, Taylor would proceed to sweep and reverse sweep frequently as Zimbabwe continued their counter-attack. This tactic, though, may well have been his downfall had the umpire not failed to spot Taylor gloving a reverse sweep to the keeper when he was on 7. With DRS not available for this series, Zimbabwe’s most experienced player survived.
Taylor fell shortly after the lunch interval, when Lakmal was causing all sorts of trouble. Unerring in his examination of the area outside off stump, Lakmal would tail a fuller delivery in towards leg stump, catching Taylor flush on the pads.
Kevin Kazusa meanwhile, had looked uncertain throughout his innings, which ended with an ill-advised leave off Lakmal as the ball to jagged back in from outside off and hit the top of off stump.
At that point Sri Lanka’s bowlers would’ve been looking to scythe through Zimbabwe’s middle order, but Williams and Raza had other ideas.