Cremer gives Zimbabwe the edge
Colombo, Sri Lanka – Leg-spinner Graeme Cremer spun the hosts hard and his team-mates stretched, dived and hunted balls down in the field so splendidly that, at the end of the second day of the only Test, Zimbabwe finished with a good chance of taking a first-innings lead - Sri Lanka was seven down for 293, and still 63 runs behind.
Where Craig Ervine (160) held Zimbabwe's innings of 356 together, Cremer (3-100) performed a similar role with the ball. Thirty of Zimbabwe's 82 overs were his, and rarely did batsmen appear to have his measure.
Sri Lanka will rue two mini- collapses: the first just after lunch, which cost its top three for 32 runs, and the second soon after tea, in which three further wickets fell for 26. This, after the openers had begun with such confidence. Upul Tharanga (71) was regal at the top, racing to 26 off his first 12 balls. He and Dimuth Karunaratne (25) put on 84 for the first wicket, before that first stumble took place.
Tharanga was only dismissed because of a little carelessness while backing up at the non-striker's end. The last wicket of the day - Dilruwan Perera (33) - was also a run-out.
The tide began turning thanks to Zimbabwe poking holes in the hosts' middle order. Barring a 96-run stand for the fourth-wicket between Dinesh Chandimal (55) and Angelo Mathews (41), there weren't very many contributions. And as a result, Sri Lanka was left relying on Asela Gunaratne (24 not out), struggling with a hamstring injury he picked up in the field, to take them closer to parity.
It had been a loose Karunaratne shot that had set Sri Lanka's first slide in motion. He attempted to cut a ball off Donald Tiripano, and sent a thick edge to slip, where Hamilton Masakadza held the catch.
Then at the other end, Kusal Mendis nicked a turning delivery from Cremer, which he perhaps did not need to play at.
Cremer was the protagonist in the next big Sri Lanka stutter as he had Chandimal caught behind by Regis Chakabva.
Four overs later, another big turner from Cremer made a further dent in Sri Lanka's innings as he had Niroshan Dickwella bowled. The well-set Mathews was the next to depart. Attempting to paddle-sweep Sean Williams against the turn, he offered only a top-edge to the legside, which Masakadza snaffled up with a full-length dive.
Sri Lanka was now on 238 for six but Perera and Gunaratne began to build partnership. However, Zimbabwe managed to break it when Perera was run out to leave the hosts trailing at stumps.
Graeme Cremer (centre) celebrates with his teammates after dismissing Sri Lanka’s Niroshan Dickwella