When last these teams met, Rangana Herath practically gobbled the opposition up, and took nearly half the Zimbabwe wickets on offer in the series. Herath had not previously played Zimbabwe, and as such, it was the only team against whom he did not have a five-wicket haul. He claimed only six wickets in the first Test, but was irresistible in the next, taking five wickets in the first innings and eight in the second. All up, his 19 wickets came at 15.10 apiece.
This time around, Zimbabwe have at least seen a little of Herath, and understand the threat he poses and captain Graeme Cremer is confident Zimbabwe’s homework will stand his batsmen in good stead.
“We know he is a quality bowler, he is someone that Sri Lanka really rely on to pick up wickets,” Cremer said of Herath. “We’ve just spoken about how he tries to get people out – both left-handers and right-handers. Guys have all come up with their own individual plans on how to play him. We definitely know he is a threat and he will be someone we need to keep out if we are to do well in the Test.”
Their own attack, meanwhile, is likely to comprise of a similar array of spinners as were in evidence during the ODI series. Cremer himself is a specialist legbreak bowler, and had some success in the Tests against Sri Lanka last year. In support are several allrounders: Sean Williams (left-arm spin), Malcolm Waller and Sikandar Raza (both offspin).
“We rely on a lot on our spinners, which has always been our wicket-taking option,” Cremer said. “We’ve had injuries with the seam attack – Carl Mumba is struggling with his knee, which is a setback for us. But we’ve still got guys who can step up and do the job, because we are spin-heavy in our team. It depends on the conditions how many spinners we will play.”
Cremer also drew attention to the substantial challenges posed by Zimbabwe’s infrequent Test schedule. The team has only played four Tests since November 2014, and none since they met Sri Lanka in October and November 2016. The vast majority of their squad have played fewer than 20 Tests, with Cremer himself only having 15 matches under his belt. The rushed schedule on this tour was also a mild bone of contention – Zimbabwe would ideally have liked more time to become acclimatised to Sri Lankan conditions.
“We sometimes struggle when we go three, four, five months without a series, which can be tough. It’s not easy just to walk up there and play well against top teams. If we can get a lot more games against good opposition it will help our cricket.
“We also knew it was tough to get a practice fixture, because Sri Lanka had a tough schedule. We’ll sort of take any cricket that is given. If Sri Lanka said we can’t play a three-dayer or four-dayer because of the schedule, that is something that we cannot control. We aren’t too fussy. At least the guys have been out in the middle in the ODIs. We are still confident we can still push them.”