Sri Lanka 515 for 9 dec (Mathews 200*, Mendis 80, Raza 3-62, Nyauchi 3-69) and 14 for 0 (Karunaratne 10*) beat Zimbabwe 358 (Ervine 85, Kasuza 63, Embuldeniya 5-114) and 170 (Williams 39, Taylor 38, Lakmal 4-27, Kumara 3-32) by ten wickets
Suranga Lakmal took down Zimbabwe’s top three first thing in the morning, Lahiru Kumara blasted out the tail late in the day, and in between, Sri Lanka’s attack squeezed enough life out of a still-docile Harare surface to seize victory on day five. Zimbabwe scored enough runs to make Sri Lanka bat again, but the visiting openers needed only three overs to knock off the 14 runs required. Lakmal, who took 4 for 27, and Kumara, who took 3 for 32, had done most of the day’s heavy lifting.
Zimbabwe did resist, but in fits and starts. After the openers and No. 3 Craig Ervine had been removed for within eight runs of each other, inside the first six overs of the day, captain Sean Williams and Brendan Taylor launched a counterattack, targeting Sri Lanka’s frontline spinner Lasith Embuldeniya in particular, perhaps reasoning that he was the biggest threat to Zimbabwe on a day five surface, after he had already taken five wickets in the first innings. They hit Embuldeniya out of the attack but couldn’t survive the seamers after lunch as Lakmal made Taylor his fourth victim, and Kasun Rajitha removed Williams.
No. 7 Regis Chakabva then produced a defiant 142-ball innings, batting with Sikandar Raza for almost 17 overs, then with Donald Tiripano for almost 20. But the second new ball became available soon after tea, and Kumara used it to wreck Zimbabwe’s lower order. He got Tiripano lbw, then uprooted the off stumps of No. 9 Kyle Jarvis and No. 10 Ainsley Ndlovu. Embuldeniya removed Chakabva to end Zimbabwe’s innings.
Following the dismissals of Taylor and Williams, who made 38 and 39 respectively, Zimbabwe were perhaps guilty of failing to move the score forward. They batted 92 overs in all but were all out for 170. If they had hit perhaps 60 runs more, they might have given Sri Lanka a slightly tougher chase given the overs left in the match. They may also have been more successful at unsettling Sri Lanka’s bowlers, who largely settled into a comfortable rhythm while ringing the bat with catching fielders.
After four days of slow-burn cricket Lakmal brought the Test to life with a little seam movement in his first three overs. He dismissed Prince Masvaure with his second delivery, straightening a ball off the seam to take the batsman’s outside edge. Next over, coming around the wicket to debutant left-hander Brian Mudzinganyama, Lakmal jagged a ball back in, and struck the batsman on the pad. As Mudzinganyama had shouldered arms, it didn’t matter that he had been hit outside the line of off stump – umpire Marais Erasmus gave the lbw decision almost immediately. When Ervine fell in Lakmal’s following over, chipping a ball to short midwicket, Zimbabwe were in disarray.
Williams and Taylor arrested the decline, and then produced perhaps the most aggressive period of batting in the entire match when they started hitting Embuldeniya around the park. Williams hit three square boundaries in the space of four Embuldeniya balls, and Taylor struck successive fours in the spinner’s next over. Each of the batsmen did offer half-chances off Embuldeniya but succeeded in having him removed from the attack.
After these two were dismissed in the first two overs after lunch, Embuldeniya did come back to bowl quieter spells. It was he who dragged Raza out of his crease and had him stumped towards the end of the second session, leaving Sri Lanka requiring just one more wicket to break through to the tail.
Chakabva played and missed occasionally but was resolute for the majority of his stay. However, Kumara put in an energetic shift with the second new ball to break the match open for Sri Lanka. Lakmal’s experience and quality are well known, but for Sri Lanka’s fastest bowler to bowl one of his best spells at the very end of a tough Test suggests serious tenacity.