Injury concerns for Australia as Zimbabwe stare at defeat
Close Australia 735 for 6 dec lead Zimbabwe 239 and 87 for 2(Vermeulen 50, Carlisle 26*; Gillespie 2-6) by 409 runs
Brett Lee nails Trevor Gripper © Getty
Australia's march to victory over Zimbabwe wasn't derailed, but it was moved onto a siding during the last session of the third day when both Jason Gillespie and Stuart MacGill went off the field - and later to hospital for scans - with injuries. It was a situation Mark Vermeulen and Stuart Carlisle turned to their advantage as they went to stumps on 87 for 2, still 409 runs behind Australia.
Vermeulen, playing his fifth Test, scored his second half century, off 79 balls, in an innings where he accumulated runs against the lesser bowling of Darren Lehmann and Damien Martyn. Carlisle was 26 not out at stumps.
MacGill left the field after bowling four balls of his fourth over in the second innings, feeling a twinge behind his right knee. He had taken 2 for 54 in the first innings. With Gillespie already off due to a slight side strain, and replaced in the field by Brad Williams, Tim Neilson, the Australian assistant coach, took to the field.
After the heady events of the second day when Matthew Hayden scaled Test match batting's highest peak, there was a much more realistic Test match atmosphere about the play as the Zimbabweans struggled to extend the match beyond four days. Until Gillespie and MacGill left the field with their injuries, that hope appeared misplaced.
Zimbabwe's hopes of a solid performance in their first innings were undone early in the day when Trevor Gripper was hit on the ear by Brett Lee. Two balls later, he was unable to keep down a sharp, rising ball which took the splice of his bat and flew to Darren Lehmann at gully. Gripper had just posted his half-century.
Vermeulen had shaped promisingly but fell to a splendid leg-spinner's delivery from MacGill which spun across him, took the edge of his bat and was taken at first slip by Matthew Hayden. It was a copy of the dismissal a little earlier of Carlisle. There was some resistance from the batsman of Zimbabwe's tour s0o far, Craig Wishart. He played some lovely shots straight and square on the off, especially against MacGill, but was undone by one of the better balls of the day from Andy Bichel. It moved a fraction to the off from the pitch and Wishart, attempting to play it off the back foot with his bat away from his body, caught the edge and the ball went through to Adam Gilchrist. He left for 46, and Zimbabwe were 199 for 5.
Once Gillespie removed Tatenda Taibu, trapping him leg before wicket for 15, the end came quickly. Brett Lee seized the chance to scythe through the lower-order, dismissing Heath Streak and Andy Blignaut off successive fast, swinging deliveries, while Gillespie bowled Ervine to end the innings at 239.
The Australians were not at their most penetrative, Lee rarely bowling at his most express pace, and Gillespie clearly affected by his injury. They were however consistently accurate and never under any pressure. Waugh was able to do without Lee's pace to break up partnerships which meant that when the final breakthrough came, Lee was still warmed up and able to start afresh in the second innings.
It was Gillespie who made the initial breakthrough when the follow-on was enforced, having Trevor Gripper out from the first ball he faced - a poor defensive shot that went off the edge to Gilchrist. Dion Ebrahim made just 4 before playing on to his stumps off Gillespie, leaving Zimbabwe 11 for 2. The Australian bowling was left enfeebled by the departure of both Gillespie and MacGill and Vermeulen and Carlisle were able to add 76 unbroken runs, and take the fight to another day. How long they extend the defiance is another matter altogether.