Zimbabwe capitulate after doing the hard work
Corey Collymore: took two wickets to help West Indies to the brink of victory
Close Zimbabwe 377 (Vermeulen 118, Collymore 4-70) and 90 for 9 (Banks 3 for 35) require 141 runs to beat West Indies 481 (Lara 191, Price 5-199) and 128 (Price 4-36)
West Indies closed the fourth day of the final Test at Bulawayo needing only one more wicket to take the match, and the series, after an astonishing day's play in which 18 wickets fell. It wasn't easy on a crumbling pitch, but the batsmen had only themselves to blame for their own indiscipline, as was the case with West Indies, and faint hearts, as it was with Zimbabwe.
West Indies started the day in confusion, crumbling to 128 all out, but finished with fierce determination, and now need only to turn up on the final morning to wrap up this topsy-turvy match. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, began with brilliance and finished in ignominy, surrendering their earlier advantage to collapse to 90 for 9.
There have been many stirring passages of play in this all-too-brief series, but none more than than today. Zimbabwe needed early wickets to put West Indies under pressure, and that's exactly what happened. Daren Ganga, who didn't add to his overnight score of 8, drove Andy Bilgnaut straight to Stuart Carlisle at cover (17 for 2). Then Heath Streak produced the ball of the series to remove Brian Lara with a wicked inswinging yorker which pierced his high backlift and knocked his middle stump clean out of the ground (21 for 3).
Zimbabwe were on fire. Wavell Hinds and Ramnaresh Sarwan did stem the vibrant bowling for a while, but without conviction. Sarwan, on 9, slashed at Blignaut and Craig Wishart picked up a sharp catch at slip (51 for 4). Hinds then played forward to Ray Price and was given out, caught at short leg by Carlisle, although television replays suggested it was pad and arm (51 for 5).
Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ridley Jacobs, the last two recognized batsmen, tried to retrieve the situation before falling in consecutive overs. Streak returned to take the vital wicket of Chanderpaul, trapped lbw for 15, with a fast, straight ball (82 for 6). In the next over Jacobs edged an attempted drive at Price on to his pads, and was snapped up by Trevor Gripper at short leg (82 for 7).
Omari Banks and the rest of the tail were left with the virtually impossible task of giving their team a respectable second-innings score. He and Merv Dillon fought on for more than half an hour before Price broke through, having Banks caught off pad and bat by Mark Vermeulen for 16 (127 for 8). Corey Collymore was then surprised to be bowled behind his legs by Price, and Fidel Edwards was bowled by Blignaut, ending the innings in a hurry on a meagre 128. Price took 4 for 36 - his poorest figures of the series, but still impressive - and Streak and Blignaut finished with three wickets apiece.
It was a fine performance by Zimbabwe, but now came the real test of their nerve. The highest target they have successfully chased was 162, against India at Harare in 2000-01, when they won a titanic struggle by four wickets. With Zimbabwe's tendency to choke though, nothing could be taken for granted - and they did their best to uphold their reputation.
Vusi Sibanda edged Dillon to second slip in the first over of the innings, without a run on the board. Then Gripper edged a ball from Collymore low to Jacobs, and West Indies believed they had another wicket. Gripper stood his ground though, and the third umpire finally ruled not out. For once the luck was going Zimbabwe's way, but the question remained as to whether they could take advantage of it.
Ray Price: caused West Indies problems again with 4 for 36
And they couldn't. Vermeulen was in fine form while scoring 24 off as many balls, but he fell just before tea to the curse of modern cricket - the one-day diagonal bat - trying to drive Hinds through the off side dragging the ball onto his stumps (32 for 2). Gripper reverted to the stonewaller he used to be, nudging a dogged 8 off 34 balls, and on tea he was given out caught at short leg by Ganga off Banks (33 for 3).
Zimbabwe's pusillanimity then reached new heights. Wishart started well, pulling Banks for a flat six over midwicket, but once again he flattered to deceive, slashing Hinds to first slip for 13 (54 for 4). With Edwards nursing a dodgy ankle and unable to bowl, Hinds did a useful job in putting the ball on the spot and letting the batsmen - and occasionally the pitch - do the work.
After Wishart's departure, the floodgates opened. Wickets fell steadily and ingloriously as the batsmen seemed to lose the will even to hit the ball off the square. Stuart Matsikenyeri ran himself out (62 for 6) and Blignaut padded up to Banks and was lbw (63 for 7) - two of the softest of dismissals imaginable. Tatenda Taibu and Price then both fell to Collymore and the white flag had well and truly been raised.
Streak hit Banks over long-on for a final defiant six, and he and Blessing Mahwire showed more fight than their predecessors. But they only delayed the inevitable, and ensured that Zimbabwe survived until what will be a token fifth day.