Ervine's 151* headlines Zimbabwe's day
Zimbabwe 344 for 8 (Ervine 151*, Raza 36, Waller 36, Herath 4-106) v Sri Lanka
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The score was 38 for 2 when Craig Ervine came to the crease. Within 10 overs, Zimbabwe would slip further, to 70 for 4, on a track that already seemed to be spitting. But for the remainder of the day, Ervine resisted Sri Lanka's spinners, and Colombo's sticky heat, to drive his team to a strong position, and himself to 151 not out. The lower order rallied around him, No. 10 Donald Tiripano - in particular - contributing 24 to an as-yet unbroken 62-run stand. Zimbabwe ended the day at 344 for 8, when at one time, it appeared as if 200 might be a struggle.
Sri Lanka were reliant - as ever - on Rangana Herath for breakthroughs, and though he had two wickets in his first three overs, could claim only two further scalps in his next 27. Dilruwan Perera had Sean Williams top edge a sweep to square leg, but was largely unthreatening - outstripped for menace even by Asela Gunaratne, who was expensive, but beat the bat and claimed two wickets. On a track as slow as this, Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara were always going to struggle. The main positive for Sri Lanka, is that on the first day of Dinesh Chandimal's leadership, they took all their chances, and fielded with uncharacteristic zest.
Ervine was measured to begin with. It took him 13 balls to score a run, and his first 50 deliveries brought just 19. Then the offside strokes began to flow - drives to overpitched deliveries mainly, but soon, cuts as well. Steadily growing confident through the day, reverse sweeps eventually began to prove productive, paddles around the corner were increasingly deployed, and though the likes of Herath would beat his bat late into the day, the quicks did not trouble him at all.
The hundred - the second of his career - came not long after tea, via a sweep off Herath. The maiden 150 was achieved in the penultimate over of the day. Along the way, Ervine had struck 13 fours - most of these on the off side - and a six over wide long on. The significant partnerships he was involved in, were many. There was an 84-run fifth-wicket recovery alongside Sikander Raza for a start, then a 65-run seventh-wicket stand with Malcolm Waller, which put Zimbabwe within range of a fine first innings total. The stand that hurt Sri Lanka most, perhaps, was the one he wrought with Tiripano - a brisk, busy association, during which Zimbabwe scored at almost four an over. Where at one point in the day, it appeared as if Zimbabwe would roll over, Sri Lanka know now that they are in a fight.
The hosts would have had such different hopes for the day. Herath, introduced by Chandimal in the eighth over, struck with his third ball, as Regis Chakabva played all around a delivery that dipped near his feet, and would go on to hit the stumps. Not long after, Hamilton Masakadza - one of Sri Lanka's tormentors from the ODIs - had popped a catch to short leg off the insede edge of the bat. Sean Williams attempted to counterattack Zimbabwe out of their early troubles, and wound up top edging a ball he tried to sweep against the turn, and Tarisai Musakanda, on debut, was the day's only victim of seam bowling. He was originally ruled not out when Sri Lanka appealed for a catch off Lahiru Kumara's bowling. Upon review, however, a faint edge was detected and that decision overturned. Musakanda's 6 was also the only single-figure score on the Zimbabwe card, though no one apart from Ervine mustered a fifty. Raza and Waller came closest, hitting 36 apiece.
Although it was clear towards the end of the day that Zimbabwe were en route to a score of around 300, Sri Lanka perhaps would not have expected Tiripano to bat with such skill. He has a first-class hundred to his name however, and if he can support Ervine further in the morning, Zimbabwe might turn this from a highly competitive score to a commanding one.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando