Colombo: Niroshan Dickwella and Asela Gunaratne hit crucial half centuries to guide Sri Lanka to their highest-ever run chase as the hosts defeated Zimbabwe by four wickets on the final day of an intriguing one-off Test match on Tuesday.
Chasing 388 for a win, the hosts, who had lost their first One-day International (ODI) series against Zimbabwe prior to the Test, had been reduced to 203 for five before Dickwella and Gunaratne combined in a stand of 121 to anchor the chase.
Dickwella was out for 81 after posting his highest Test score while Gunaratne, who battled on despite suffering from a hamstring injury, remained 80 not out.
Sri Lanka’s previous highest run chase was against South Africa in 2006 when they made 352 for nine in the fourth innings in Colombo. Their total of 391 for six was the fifth highest run chase by any team in Tests.
The touring side, chasing their first Test win against Sri Lanka, made a good start to the final day when they picked up two early wickets through captain Graeme Cremer after the hosts had resumed on 170 for three.
The leg-spinner, who took his maiden five-wicket haul in the first innings, took his second innings tally to four victims when he sent back Kusal Mendis, who made 66, and former captain Angelo Mathews for 25.
However, Sri Lanka fought back through Dickwella and Gunaratne before the former was caught by wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva off left-arm spinner Sean Williams.
Chakabva, however, had an otherwise forgetful day behind the stumps as he missed chances to get both batsmen out.
“Disappointing but credit to Sri Lanka... to chase 380 on a day-five pitch is pretty special,” Cremer said at the presentation.
“So credit to them, but credit to our guys as well. The way the guys fought and got the runs on the board and pushed Sri Lanka till he last day was great.
“The one-day series is a high point for us, we brought that confidence into the Test match and it gave us the belief that we could push the big teams.”
Sri Lanka spin spearhead Rangana Herath was named player of the series for taking 11 wickets over the two innings, while Gunaratne was named player of the match for scores of 45 and 80 not out and a two-wicket haul in the first innings.
Dinesh Chandimal, who replaced Mathews as captain, will now lead Sri Lanka in a three-test home series against India starting on July 26.
“It’s been a really good five days, so credit goes to all the players, they stuck to the plans and went there and did their best,” Chandimal said.
“It’s always tough when you’re batting in the fourth innings but I told the team that they should play their normal game and they played some outstanding innings, especially Dickwella and Asela.”
Zimbabwe 1st innings: 356
(C. Ervine 160; R. Herath 5-116)
Sri Lanka 1st innings: 346
(U. Tharanga 71, D. Chandimal 55; G. Cremer 5-125)
Zimbabwe 2nd innings: 377
(S. Raza 127, M. Waller 68; R. Herath 6-133)
Sri Lanka 2nd innings
D. Karunaratne b Williams 49
U. Tharanga c Moor b Cremer 27
K. Mendis c Williams b Cremer 66
D. Chandimal c H. Masakadza b Cremer 15
Angelo Mathews c&b Cremer 25
N. Dickwella c Chakabva b Williams 81
Asela Gunaratne (not out) 80
Dilruwan Perera (not out) 29
Extras (b-9, lb-8, w-2) 19
Total (6 wkts, 114.5 overs) 391
Fall of wickets: 1-58, 2-108, 3-133, 4-178, 5-203, 6-324.
Did not bat: R. Herath, S. Lakmal, L. Kumara
Bowling: S. Raza 13-1-58-0; S. Williams 43.5-2-146-2 (w-2); G. Cremer 48-6-150-4; M. Waller 4-0-10-0; C. Mpofu 6-3-10-0.