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Zimbabwe in dire straits chasing 491

Recap to the fourth day of the first Test match where Rangana Herath delayed the declaration too long, only to allow the match to go into the final moments on the last day before Sri Lanka won the match by 225 runs. The same question came back haunting as Sri Lanka batted defensively throughout the opening session, scoring just 75 runs for the loss of one wicket. A lot had changed by the time Tea was taken, however, as Sri Lanka scored 81 quick runs before setting a colossal fourth-innings target of 491 for Zimbabwe. A shaky start didn't help the hosts as they lost two early wickets in the brief passage of play before the break.

The second session witnessed a distinct change in Sri Lanka's approach as Kusal Perera made a strong statement with an audacious reverse sweep off Cremer in the first over after lunch. The aggressor that he is known to be, picked up two more boundaries, slapping Mpofu through the off-side field in the very next over. While Karunaratne was happy with the singles en route his fifth Test match ton, Mpofu crashed his dreams, trapping the southpaw plumb in front of the stumps for 88 in the 73rd over.

With the idea pretty clear that the tourists were looking to step on the gas, Dilruwan Perera (2) went for an expansive slog sweep off Cremer in the 74th over, only for the ball to spin past the bat and lob off the wrists to the slip fielder. Amidst the fall of wickets, Perera didn't shy away from taking on Cremer, hitting him for three boundaries in the 76th over, an over which saw Herath depart. Herath (4) in his own fancy style, went for a big slog sweep off a fullish ball to find his stumps shattered.

Suranga Lakmal joined Perera in the middle and began with a couple of fours off Mpofu, who had bowled six maiden overs on the trot in the opening session. While it largely seemed that Sri Lanka were waiting for Perera's fifty, they batted on even after he got there off the first ball in the 80th over. Perera did not relent as he continued to milk the bowling of Cremer, hitting a four and a six before falling prey to the skipper himself in the 82nd over. With the Lankan lead sitting pretty at 490, Herath declared the innings at a score that was comfortably 300 more than the highest-ever successful run-chase (192/7) at Harare.

Chasing 491 in the fourth innings, Zimbabwe survived a scary chance when Tino Mawoyo got an outside edge through the gully region off Lakmal in the first over. Herath took the new ball from the other end and maintained the pressure on the Zimbabwe openers. Brian Chari, their top scorer from the first innings, punished Lakmal for straying on the pads and collected his first boundary in the second essay. Although Chari (8) had faced enough from Herath in the first innings, he didn't seem too comfortable, as an arm ball sneaking right between his bat and pad for the stumps to be rattled.

While Masakadza countered Herath's turn with a big sweep in the eighth over, he too, much like Chari, failed to pick the arm ball before being adjudged out leg before in the penultimate over of the session. Craig Ervine batted out the last over before Tea with caution, but the damage had been done with Zimbabwe having lost two crucial wickets in a mountainous run-chase.

Brief Scores: Zimbabwe 272 (Brian Chari 80, Craig Ervine 64; Rangana Herath 5-89) & 33/2 (Rangana Herath 2-14) trail Sri Lanka 504 & 258/9 (Dimuth Karunaratne 88, Kusal Perera 62; Graeme Cremer 4-91, Carl Mumba 3-67) by 458 runs

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