At lunch on day four, there was just one question foremost on everyone’s mind: What target did Sri Lanka think was enough on a two-paced surface on which Zimbabwe collapsed against spin to lose their last five wickets for 19? Resuming on 102 for 4, Dimuth Karunaratne battled batted through the session as Sri Lanka’s lead swelled past 400.

Karunaratne nudged closer to a fifth Test century, while Gunaratne, with a fifty and century already in his first two Tests, further pressed forward his case for a middle-order berth even when the regulars return, with a sturdy 39. The possible highlight in an otherwise uneventful session of attritional cricket was his crashing drive from he rough off Graeme Cremer.

Donald Tiripano picked up the lone wicket in the session when he had Gunaratne playing across the line to an in-dipper that would have crashed into the leg stump. Kusal Perera, out to an ugly hoick across the line in the first innings, was unbeaten on 10 at the interval as Sri Lanka went into the break on 177 for 5.

The only way Zimbabwe could have made a splash, however unlikely, was by picking early wickets to prevent an already steep lead from escalating further. But after a string of maidens upfront – there were only three scoring shots in the first seven overs – inconsistencies in lines crept up. To their luck, Sri Lanka’s batsmen failed to cash in as a number of shots repeatedly found fielders in what was an otherwise defensive approach against attacking fields.

Christopher Mpofu bowled six maidens on a trot without once threatening to take a wicket, before conceding his first runs off an under-edge past the slips. The only semblance of a challenge came from Tiripano, who got the ball to straighten against the right-handed Gunaratne from wide of the crease.

As the session progressed, Cremer adopted a more defensive approach. While he bowled outside leg stump to the right-handed Gunaratne, who was happy to pad balls away, the faster men, having a packed off side ring as insurance, bowled full and wide outside to the two left-handers