Zimbabwe haven’t played a lot of Test cricket of late. In fact, for a while they did not feature in Tests at all, owing to the political turmoil in the country. Things have improved somewhat since. Sri Lanka last played a Test against Zimbabwe back in 2004, which says a lot. A lot has changed in Test cricket since, not least of all the players across the two teams. Zimbabwe have never beaten Sri Lanka in five-day matches so far, and the hosts will go in the latest series as underdogs as well although they have the home advantage.
The series will be special for veteran Rangana Herath, as the left-arm spinner would be making his debut as Test captain at the ripe age of 38. The chance has come to Herath by default as their regular captain and vice-captain are injured, making him the senior-most player in the team. Herath would be raring to take up the challenge, but he might not find it all that easy in the absence of some star performers. Apart from Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, three of their pace bowlers, Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera, would be missing from action.
The Zimbabwe series would present youngsters an opportunity to come up with some impressive efforts. Dimuth Karunaratne is definitely not among them. He has been given ample opportunities to succeed at the top of the order, but has failed to make too much of an impression. He has been lucky to retain his place in the Test team, but time is running out for sure for him. Kaushal Silva and Kusal Perera have also been around for a while, and need to begin being more consistent. The Zimbabwe series may be just what they wanted.
In recent times, Kusal Mendis has played some match-defining knocks against top sides. He completely turned around the series against Australia with his brilliance. He would look to carry on in the same vein. Thanks to the injuries, the inconsistent Upul Tharanga gets another opportunity to revive his fluctuating career. It is in the bowling that Sri Lanka could struggle. Herath will have to lead from the front. Dilruwan Perera did reasonably well against the Aussies so he too would be confident. But, Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Gamage must ensure that they don’t give away too much.
Zimbabwe would primarily depend on three men when it comes to their batting -- Hamilton Masakadza, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams. The trio must get among the runs if Zimbabwe want to compete. Sikandar Raza can also chip in with both bat and ball. The opening is a worry though as Tino Mawoyo and Brian Chari haven’t tasted a great amount of success at the top of the order, and don’t have much experience as well. In the bowling, Graeme Cremer is likely to hold the key, and would look for support from Donald Tiripano. Carl Mumba and Chris Mpofu are among the limited options they have.
--By A Cricket Analyst