It took Upul Tharanga multiple stints and close to 11 years after his first Test century to bring up his second. A week on, he looked set to add to that tally. He had progressed serenely to 79 during the course of a 143-run fifth-wicket stand with Dhananjaya De Silva and revived Sri Lanka after a top order wobble, before fading light brought about a slightly more circumspect approach that may have contributed to his dismissal. At the other end, Dhananjaya calmly waded through the 90s to bring up his second Test century as Sri Lanka nudged ahead on a see-saw opening day, ending it 290 for 5.Things could have been much better for Zimbabwe had they fielded and caught better. In the penultimate over of the day, Brian Chari’s underarm flick at the bowler’s end missed the stumps and reprieved Asela Gunaratne, who was on 10. Before that came a costlier miss, Peter Moor fluffing a chance down the leg side off Graeme Cremer to let Dhananjaya off on 64. That was the only uncertain moment in Dhananjaya’s innings, which showcased his ability to tailor his tactics to Sri Lanka’s situation.Happy to hit through the line against the seamers, he eliminated drives against Cremer’s legspin as the day wore on. That wasn’t to say he was completely guarded, for the bad balls were punished, at times with a touch of disdain.If Tharanga was an accumulator, Dhananjaya was the artist during the course of Sri Lanka’s highest fifth-wicket stand against Zimbabwe – they surpassed the previous best of 114 between Asanka Gurusinha and Hashan Tillakaratne at Sinhalese Sports Club (Colombo) in 1996. The pair batted through 50.3 overs on a surface that offered plenty of lateral movement.
As the day progressed, there was even a hint of turn and inconsistent bounce, which further underlined the importance of the partnership. Dhananjaya, who walked in to bat with Sri Lanka 112 for 4, hit 11 fours and was batting on 100 at stumps.
Zimbabwe, who were on the wrong side of several decisions in the first Test, were beneficiaries of the Decision Review System that was introduced for the first time in the country. Tharanga, initially given not out by umpire Simon Fry, had to walk back when replays suggested he had nicked the ball while driving away from his body at Cremer, before the ball bounced to slip off the wicketkeeper’s pads.
Zimbabwe’s relief was palpable, and continued to attack with the seamers, taking the second new ball as soon as it became available, but Dhananjaya and Gunaratne saw out the rest of the day’s play.
Choosing to bowl first, Zimbabwe were dealt an early blow when Carl Mumba, one of their three frontline seamers, left the field with knee trouble after bowling his first over. His absence, coupled with the waywardness of Christopher Mpofu, helped Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva to rattle off 60 in the first hour.
Hamilton Masakadza led Zimbabwe’s revival with his part-time seam after being summoned up to give Mpofu and Donald Tiripano a breather. It took him just 10 balls to break the 62-run opening stand, Dimuth Karunarate gliding an away-going delivery into the hands of Sean Williams at gully. In Masakadza’s next over, Kusal Perera swiped a full-length delivery to Mumba at long-on.
The pressure Zimbabwe maintained thereon played a part in their next breakthrough, Mpofu trapping Kaushal Silva lbw with an in-dipper in the penultimate over before lunch. It was a dramatic dismissal. Given out by umpire Fry, Kaushal was denied a review by his own indecision – he took more than the prescribed 15 seconds before asking for it. Replays suggested Zimbabwe were lucky, with ball-tracking showing the angle taking the ball past leg stump.
Two overs after lunch, Sri Lanka lost Kusal Mendis and were a precarious 112 for 4. Tharanga, who walked in at No 5, laced the first two balls he faced to the cover boundary and glanced his fourth ball for another four. Having gotten off to that turbocharged start, he progressed steadily. Early in his innings, Dhananjaya marked his arrival, splitting midwicket and mid-on with a whiplash flick off Mpofu. That was just one of several moments of class in his effort to lead Sri Lanka’s revival.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Zimbabwe won the toss and elected to field