Taibu and Matsikenyeri turn the tide Zimbabwe's way
Close Zimbabwe 284 for 6 (Taibu 75*, Matsikenyeri 57)
Tatenda Taibu: unbeaten on a Test-best 75 not out
Tatenda Taibu and Stuart Matsikenyeri helped Zimbabwe recover from a precarious position to reach a healthy 284 for 6 at the close of the opening day of the first Test at Harare. Taibu finished with an impressive 75 not out, while Matsikenyeri, who was winning his first cap, made a fighting 57 to frustrate the West Indian bowlers, who had made such a bright start.
But that total could and should have been even better, as Taibu and Matsikenyeri's evening heroics bailed Zimbabwe out of early trouble. One batsman after another flashed catches either to Ridley Jacobs, the wicketkeeper, or Brian Lara at first slip. The pitch was good, the weather hot and humid - which means that rain could be on the way - and the main virtue of the rather innocuous West Indian bowling attack was their consistent line outside off stump. And that proved the ideal tactic as the top order eagerly gave catching practice with a succession of loose drives.
Vusi Sibanda, on his Test debut, hit his second ball for four, but he was the first to go. After he had scored a confident 18, he drove lavishly at Fidel Edwards and edged to Jacobs (26 for 1). Mark Vermeulen (8) followed quickly when he was late on a pull shot against Edwards and lobbed an easy catch off the splice to Wavell Hinds at square leg (35 for 2). And Stuart Carlisle also departed for 8, when he drove way outside his off stump and was pouched by Lara off Corey Collymore (58 for 3).
West Indies had left out Mervyn Dillon, who has not been in the best of form in recent months (not helped by being struck by lighning in a domestic match), and fielded the same four bowlers who played against Sri Lanka in their last Test match in July. Collymore was certainly the most accurate, while early on most of the runs - and the wickets - came from Edwards. Hinds was surprisingly brought on as first change in preference to Vasbert Drakes and Jerome Taylor, who limped off with a side injury before the close, and despite some wild deliveries the batsmen found it hard to score off him. However, none of the bowlers found the fearsome reverse swing that had so tormented Zimbabwe A in the warm-up match.
Trevor Gripper: fell after doing the hard work
Trevor Gripper batted soundly until lunch, but he too fell after making a start. He was another batsman guilty of a loose drive when he edged Taylor to Lara for 41 (112 for 4). Craig Wishart also got going, making 47, and he lived up to his reputation of doing the hard work against the top teams only to throw it away when on the verge of something big. He played some fine back-foot drives on the off side, showing what a good player he can be, but then he flashed Hinds to Jacobs (154 for 4).
However, then came the stand which turned the match on its head. Both Taibu and Matsikenyeri started their innings slowly but then blossomed, playing some fine drives. Matsikenyeri reached a debut half-century in fine style, driving Hinds over long-off for six, and then cutting his next ball to the boundary. But he eventually perished in the same way as the others, driving outside off and edging to Jacobs for a well-made 57.
As the light faded West Indies, keen to capture more wickets before the close and start tomorrow with the second new ball, turned to their spinners, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan. By that stage Taibu was past 50, and Heath Streak was playing himself in with dedication with no risk. They saw out the remaining overs, and Taibu finished with 75 not out, his best Test score, with high hopes of reaching three figures tomorrow.