Pakistan take useful lead over Zimbabwe
60 runs behind on first innings, Zimbabwe's history as a whole would suggest that they have little hope of winning this First Test match against Pakistan at Harare Sports Club - although interestingly at Peshawar in 1998/99 they did come back from such a position to bowl out Pakistan for 103 and win by seven wickets.
They will be hoping that this particular piece of history will repeat itself on the third day, but it will require some inspired bowling and fielding. The fielding may well be possible, as a fine catch removed Saleem Elahi as Pakistan reached 14 for one in their second innings; the bowling remains to be seen.
There were two crucial turning points during a disappointing morning session for Zimbabwe when they lost four wickets: firstly a concentration error by opener Hamilton Masakadza that initiated a minor collapse and inspired the Pakistani pacemen, and secondly an umpiring error that robbed the side of Andy Flower's innings just as he was effecting a recovery.
Some overnight rain probably helped to delay the amelioration of the pitch as Dion Ebrahim and Masakadza went out to face Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. The sky remained overcast, although more rain was not imminent, but the light was to ring a premature end to the day with 17.4 overs unbowled.
Ebrahim, who had not been in good form since his maiden century a month ago, took advantage of overpitched deliveries from both bowlers and reached double figures in the fourth over with some skilful drives. Then he edged a ball at catchable height off Waqar between fourth slip and gully to the boundary. Pakistan plugged the gap so they had six fielders in the slip-gully region. Two more fours followed through the gaps, so Ebrahim scored all of the first 22 runs on the board before Masakadza finally pushed Shoaib for a single past gully. Shoaib often passed the 150km/hr mark without unduly troubling the batsmen on a slow pitch.
There were two turning points in the Zimbabwe innings. The first was when Masakadza (9), never fluent, unwisely tried to hook the erratic Mohammad Sami and gloved a catch to the keeper; Zimbabwe 36 for one. This started a chain reaction with two more wickets falling in quick succession as the bowlers raised their game.
Shoaib decided that a yorker was the answer: one turned into a low lightning-fast full toss that bowled Campbell for 2, too far across his stumps and playing across the line, and another beat Grant Flower only just outside off stump first ball. Sami responded by raising his game and a lifter took Ebrahim (31) by surprise, bouncing off his gloves to Inzamam at first slip. This brought the Flower brothers together to face a not unusual crisis against bowling that looked suddenly lethal. Masakadza's indiscretion had cost his team more dearly than he could have thought.
Andy Flower soon put Sami in his place with two effortless off-side boundaries and looked in fine form. Grant looked much less comfortable, but hung on as only he can. Then came the second turning point. Andy's masterclass was unfortunately cut short by umpire Venkat, who adjudged him caught behind down the leg side, off the thigh pad, off Sami, for 29. Zimbabwe were struggling at 76 for four.
Pakistan struck again immediately after lunch, with an express delivery from Shoaib beating Whittall (7) for pace and removing his off stump. At 93 for five, Zimbabwe were in serious trouble.
Things nearly deteriorated further as Taibu, on 4, snicked a catch straight to Inzamam at first slip, but it went down. It was hard work as he and Grant Flower sought to wear down the bowlers, picking up singles where they could. They took the total to 136, and again a sizable partnership was just beginning to develop when Grant was adjudged lbw, to a marginal decision by umpire Orchard when playing forward, for 36.
Blignaut, on his return to international cricket, got off the mark third ball by lofting Saqlain over long-on for six. He struck Saqlain out of the attack, and though a little more restrained against pace and sometimes reluctant to get in line still dealt mainly in boundaries. Shoaib began to lose his cool when Taibu also got a thick edge for four between slip and gully, and he aroused the crowd with his petulant behaviour and vicious bouncers.
Taibu played a fine courageous innings against bowlers faster than he had ever faced before, getting behind the line and selecting his shots well. His previous highest Test score was 13, but he played the innings of a veteran. Blignaut, 33 at tea, reached his fifty off 53 balls in the first over afterwards, much to the discomfiture of bowler Saqlain. He then threw it away with a miscued pull off Sami, holing out to square leg, and Zimbabwe were 199 for seven.
Blessing Mahwire pulled his first ball in Test cricket, from Saqlain, to the fence, only to pop a catch to slip next ball, while Raymond Price (2) untypically flashed a catch to the same position off the same bowler. Henry Olonga put up more of a fight as last man in, seeing Taibu through to a maiden Test fifty, before being yorked for 3, leaving Taibu with a gallant 51 not out. Zimbabwe totalled 225, a deficit of 60 which is likely to prove fatal, and wondering what might have been had Andy Flower been able to continue with his rescue act.
Olonga began erratically against the left-handed Taufeeq Umar, but when the batsmen changed ends immediately had Saleem Elahi caught low down by Campbell at second slip without scoring. Only four more runs were added before poor light ended play for the day.