|Ground:||Harare Sports Club, Harare|
|Scorecard:||Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka|
|Event:||Sri Lanka in Zimbabwe 2016/17|
Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer showed his top-order batsmen how to play today as he defied the best the Sri Lanka bowlers could send down at him to score a wonderful century at Harare Sports Club today when his team stood on the brink of disaster.
Poor shot selection had been the main reason for his teams collapse to 139 for six wickets before lunch on the third day.
The fightback was started by PJ Moor, who took the attack to the bowlers with a powerfully hit 79 runs.
Cremer backed him superbly throughout his innings, and after he left continued to play the same brand of watchful yet positive cricket in partnership with Donald Tiripano.
His innings was based on patience, the straight bat and wise shot selection, virtues to be copied by batsmen everywhere, even Test players.
The first session of the day may yet go down as that in which Zimbabwe lost the match.
Overnight the position looked hopeful, with a score of 88 for one wicket, and Tino Mawoyo, on 41, and Hamilton Masakadza, on 33, had batted confidently and positively the previous evening.
However, the morning session saw Zimbabwe lose five good wickets, in a serious of feeble or ill-judged strokes, and by lunch a good response to the Sri Lankan total of 537 was almost impossible.
For the first five overs Mawoyo and Masakadza seemed to be playing themselves in carefully against the pace of Suranga Lakmal and the left-arm spin of Rangana Herath.
But Lakmal sensed that Mawoyo didnt play the short balls well, and unleashed a number of them against him.
It didnt take long before the batsman played a cramped pull stroke, miscued it badly, and sent the easiest of catches to the square-leg fielder. He made 45 and the score was now 92 for two.
In his next over he removed Masakadza, who made a half-hearted drive outside the off stump and edged the ball to first slip, without adding to his overnight 33.
This brought together two new batsmen, the left-handed pair of Craig Ervine and Sean Williams.
Ervine began well, and brought up the team hundred with a powerful sweep to the boundary off Herath.
He and Williams looked capable of repairing the damage, until Williams misjudged a sweep against Herath and was caught near the square-leg boundary for 10; 111 for four.
Malcolm Waller, on his return to the national team, began confidently, placing the ball well and as usual strong through the covers.
Ervine, however, became rather bogged down, and when he had 12 he groped down the pitch to the off-spinner Dilruwan Perera and was trapped lbw; 134 for five.
In Pereras next over Waller unwisely tried to pull him across the line, but the ball skidded through low and trapped him lbw for 22, the score now being 139 for six.
This was the third lbw decision of the innings, and the replay showed all would have hit the stumps, although they may have been marginal.
PJ Moor, however, came out fighting. He did not hide his aggressive instincts, and had faced only a few balls when he lofted a ball from Perera over long-on for six.
He lashed the next ball through the covers for four, but the experienced bowler held the next back and Moor only just sliced it short of backward point.
He hit another six off Herath just before lunch, again hitting with the spin, which meant it carried over the long-off boundary.
At the interval the score was 174 for six, with Moor on 25 and Cremer, batting with good common sense, 10.
After lunch both batsmen thrived, making a nonsense of the five wickets that fell during the morning.
Cremer drove two fours in an over from Lakmal, to the off and then to leg, as he waited for the loose ball and calmly took advantage of it with straight-bat strokes.
Two overs later Moor clipped a ball from Asela Gunaratne, brought on to bowl for the first time in Test cricket, through the leg-side field for two to reach his fifty, which took him only 49 balls.
He celebrated by hitting the last ball of the over for a straight six.
Cremer brought up the hundred partnership for the seventh wicket by the pair with an off-drive for four, and then followed it with another, as Gunaratne was quite unable to fulfil the role of third seamer; his three overs cost 23 runs.
Lahiru Kumaru replaced him, and another typical effortless drive through extra cover took Cremer past his previous highest Test score of 43.
Soon afterwards Moor also passed his previous best of 71, and Cremer reached a well-deserved maiden Test fifty, off 97 balls.
Survival did not look too difficult now, as Sri Lanka on the evidence of this innings had only three bowlers of quality, and all at this stage needed resting.
Suddenly, though, Kumara came to life. First he made a ball rear at Moor, who fortuitously popped it over the slips for four.
Two balls later he produced a similar ball and Moor was less fortunate, popping the ball up towards gully, who dived forward to take the catch.
Moor had made a gallant and aggressive 79 off 84 balls, with six fours and three sixes; the partnership had added 132 runs and the score was now 271 for seven wickets.
Kumara continued the pepper the batsmen with bouncers, and struck Cremer on the head, knocking off his helmet.
Cremer, unlike some of his team-mates, had the sense to keep his bat down and out of the way of the ball.
On 58, however, he tried to pull a short ball for the first time, and was fortunate that the long-leg fielder dropped a low chance and he scored a single for it.
Tiripano came in and took his lessons from Cremer, playing straight and patiently.
The second new ball was taken by Lakmal and Herath. After two overs with it, tea was taken with Zimbabwe 291 for seven, Cremer on 62 and Tiripano nine.
When they returned, Tiripano hit a ball from Herath back over his head for four to bring up the 300.
Tiripano drove Kumara through the covers for four to take the total to 339, which meant Zimbabwe had avoided the possibility of being forced to follow on.
Cremer reached 97 when he lost Tiripano, trapped plumb lbw surprisingly by the occasional leg-spinner Kusal Mendis, who had never previously taken a wicket in first-class cricket; 363 for eight.
This dismissal seemed to affect Cremer, who no longer looked so composed. He mishit a pull from a long hop to take a single, which fortunately fell in the gap between fielders.
He swept Herath for a single, but Carl Mumba drove over a quicker yorker from Herath and was bowled for one; 366 for nine.
The entire ground was willing Cremer on to his century, and the first ball of the next over, from Mendis, he was able to turn backward of square leg for the required single, his superb century taking him 198 balls.
Chris Mpofu had done his part nobly by blocking the final delivery after Mumba left, but he did not last long against Lakmal, being bowled for two, with the total 373.
The deficit was 164, a large margin still, but much smaller than had been feared at lunch.
Cremer was not out for his magnificent 102, scored off 207 balls with 10 fours.
His only other century is 171 not out, scored off much weaker bowling in the Logan Cup of 2006/07.
There were three wickets each for Lakmal and Herath, and two for Perera.
Sri Lanka still had three overs to face before close of play.
Dimuth Kunaratne and Kaushal Silva survived the bowling of Mpofu and Cremer to score five runs.
If Zimbabwe can continue the fight throughout the team they could yet force a draw.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2016 Zimbabwe Cricket)