Harare, Nov 1: Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer's all-around performance couldn't stop Sri Lanka's dominance of the first Test on Monday (Oct 31) and the home team appeared headed for another defeat to mark its 100th match.
Spinner Cremer made a maiden test century with the bat to go with his four wickets, but Sri Lanka still led by 169 runs with 10 wickets in hand by stumps on the third day in Harare.
Cremer's 102 not out, his first test score over 50 saved Zimbabwe from the follow-on as it made 373 all out in response to Sri Lanka's first-innings total of 537.
By the close at Harare Sports Club, Sri Lanka was 5-0 in its second innings and holding a significant advantage. Stand-in captain Rangana Herath and fast bowler Suranga Lakmal took three wickets each to maintain Sri Lanka's control.
Centuries by Kusal Perera and Upul Tharanaga set up Sri Lanka's big first-innings score on the first two days. It could have been far worse for Zimbabwe on Monday if not for Cremer's stubborn hundred and 79 from wicketkeeper-batsman Peter Moor.
They came together with the home team 139-6 and way off the follow-on target of 338. They put on a partnership of 132 for the seventh wicket, the best of the match, to hold off Sri Lanka's bowlers at least temporarily.
As Cremer played with grit and determination, Moor hit an attacking half-century with six fours and three sixes in his almost run-a-ball 79.
Cremer was then part of another important partnership, putting on 92 for the eighth wicket with tailender Donald Tiripano (46).
Still, Sri Lanka which is missing regular captain Angelo Mathews and vice captain Dinesh Chandimal on this tour because of injury has the chance to push for victory over the final two days.
A victory in the first of two tests would maintain Sri Lanka's unbeaten record against test cricket's strugglers.
Zimbabwe's milestone 100th test since entering the five-day format in 1992 has also highlighted the southern Africans' poor record. Zimbabwe have won just 11 of those tests over the last 24 years and lost 62.