HARARE: Kusal Perera struck his maiden Test century as Sri Lanka took control of the first Test against Zimbabwe on the opening day at Harare Sports Club on Saturday.
Perera took advantage of two dropped catches to make an attacking 110, while Kaushal Silva scored 94 as Sri Lanka notched up 317 for four on a largely one-sided day.
Zimbabwe had hoped to push an under-strength Sri Lankan side in their 100th Test match, and first under new coach Heath Streak, but were instead dogged by familiar problems with their fielding.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Perera survived chances on 15 and 30, while Silva was put down on 89 and fellow opener Dimuth Karunaratne, who made 56, was dropped in the second over of the match.
Zimbabwe did pull things back in the final hour of the day, with legspinner Graeme Cremer picking up two wickets to close with figures of 3 for 82.
With regular captain Angelo Mathews and vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal among the five players ruled out of the two-Test series by injury, 38-year-old Rangana Herath led Sri Lanka for the first time in his career.
Having won the toss, and elected to bat, he watched his openers put on a stand of 123, although they could have been separated early on.
Zimbabwe gave a debut to fast bowler Carl Mumba, making him their 100th Test player in the process, and his first delivery caught the shoulder of Karunaratne’s bat only for Sean Williams to put down a one-handed effort as he back-pedalled at gully.
Karunaratne departed after lunch when he chipped Cremer to midwicket, but that brought Perera to the crease where he quickly took the attack to Zimbabwe’s bowlers.
“They were bowling in good areas but my normal approach is to attack. That’s my natural way,” he said. “I’m really happy about my first Test century.”
The approach did give Zimbabwe opportunities to strike back, but wicketkeeper Peter Moor was unable to hold onto two thin edges — one from Silva and one from Perera — before Malcolm Waller dropped a simpler chance from Perera at long-on.
Perera responded with a fearsome onslaught after tea, taking five boundaries off a Mumba over to race into the 70s.
His scoring rate slowed thereafter as Zimbabwe went into a containing pattern and Cremer had Kusal Mendis caught behind for 34, but he was still able to reach three figures in just 104 deliveries.
A sloppy stroke in the final half-hour of the day eventually brought his innings to a close as he drove a Cremer delivery to Waller at cover, but Sri Lanka nonetheless closed the day in a strong position with Upul Tharanga on 13 and Dhananjaya de Silva on 10.
“We need to take our chances, because we let a few go today,” reflected Mumba. “If we take all of our chances tomorrow then we might get them before they reach a big score.”