Kusal Mendis scored a fluent half-century to keep Sri Lanka’s hopes of chasing a record 388 alive on day four of the one-off Test against Zimbabwe on Monday.
The hosts were 170 for three at stumps, with Mendis (60) batting alongside Angelo Mathews (17) at Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium.
Sri Lanka’s highest-ever successful run chase was against South Africa in 2006, when they achieved their 352-run target in Colombo.
Zimbabwe skipper Graeme Cremer dented the hosts with his leg-spin, claiming the important wickets of Upul Tharanga (27) and his opposite number Dinesh Chandimal (15).
Opener Dimuth Karunaratne was bowled by left-arm spinner Sean Williams for 49 as the visitors persisted with an all-spin attack in the 48 overs bowled in the innings so far.
Karunaratne said Cremer — who bagged his maiden five-wicket Test haul in Sri Lanka’s first innings — would pose the biggest threat on a fifth-day track.
“We have got to watch out for Cremer. He is creating the most trouble. There is lot of assistance for the wrist spinner,” Karunaratne said.
“We have already got 170 runs on the board… once the ball gets softer, it gets easier. If these two guys are able to hang in there for one and a half hours we will get into an interesting position.”
Mendis, who fought off hamstring trouble in the final session of play, put together an unbeaten 37-run stand with Mathews to take the delicately poised Test into its final day.
Zimbabwe were earlier bowled out for 377 in the second session, with Sikandar Raza (127) top-scoring for the visitors with his maiden Test century.
Cremer was the last man out for 48 off left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who returned figures of 6-133 to take his match tally to 11 wickets.
The Pakistan-born Raza steered the team’s middle and lower order to help his side accumulate another 318 runs after being reduced to 59-5 on day three.
Raza’s 144-run partnership with Malcolm Waller (68) was the highlight of the Zimbabwe innings after the pair resumed on the overnight score of 252-6.
“Feels great to get my maiden Test hundred,” said all-rounder Raza, who also opened Zimbabwe’s bowling with his off-spin.
“All the batters put up a tremendous show. Brilliant effort by all the guys to get us into this position. The result of this game now can go our way.”
Zimbabwe are seeking their first-ever Test win against Sri Lanka, who are looking for redemption under new Test captain Chandimal.
He took over from Mathews, who resigned after calling the one-day series loss a “hard pill to swallow”.