Harare - Graeme Cremer struck his maiden Test century but the Zimbabwe captain's gritty knock could not prevent his side from closing day three of the first Test against Sri Lanka with a heavy deficit.
Cremer, who arrived at the crease in Harare with Zimbabwe 139 for six in reply to Sri Lanka's 537 and facing the prospect of following on, hit 102 not out to drag the home side to 373 all out.
By the close of play on Monday, Sri Lanka had reached five without loss in their second innings to lead by 169.
Cremer's previous highest score in Test cricket was 43, but he showed his batsmen what was possible with a bit of application as he batted for over four hours.
Zimbabwe's collapse in the morning had owed more to a series of rash strokes than trying conditions or outstanding bowling.
They resumed on a promising 88 for one, but soon saw opener Tino Mawoyo pull a short ball from Suranga Lakmal straight to deep midwicket to depart for 45, and two overs later Hamilton Masakadza prodded forward to edge Lakmal to slip for 33.
Sean Williams then picked out the man in the deep with a careless sweep, before Craig Ervine and Malcolm Waller were trapped lbw by Dilruwan Perera.
At 139 for six Zimbabwe were in danger of being shot out, but Peter Moor's counter-attacking knock changed the momentum of the innings.
His two early sixes forced the field back, while Cremer was content to provide dogged support from the other end.
"I think we bat quite well together because PJ plays some big shots and keeps the scoreboard ticking, and I know that I can block out a maiden if I need to and just get off strike," said Cremer.
"So that helps me a lot, knowing there's someone on the other end scoring."
Moor went on to score a career-best 79 in a 132-run stand with Cremer which only ended when Lahiru Kumara produced a fearsome bouncer that Moor fended to slip.
Kumara went on to knock Cremer's helmet off his head and rattle the Zimbabwe skipper, who was then fortunate to see a hook shot off Kumara dropped at deep backward square-leg with his score on 58.
Cremer went on to add 92 for the eighth wicket with Donald Tiripano as Zimbabwe's tail continued to wag, but nearly ran out of partners on 99 when the ninth wicket went down.
Zimbabwe's final batsman Chris Mpofu managed to hold off Rangana Herath to give Cremer his chance, and the 30-year-old duly went to three figures to cap an impressive feat for a batsman who averaged 10.75 prior to the Test.
"I hadn't got 50 before in Test cricket and I don't even have a five-for yet, so it was quite special," said Cremer.
"When I got to 75, I started thinking, 'There's a chance here.' Then I thought I might run out of partners. It was an awesome feeling to get that one run to get to a hundred."