Zimbabwe v West Indies, 1st Test, Harare, 3rd Day November 6, 2003

Roller mania

The first Test between Zimbabwe and West Indies at Harare Sports Club almost came to an untimely ending before the start of the third day's play, thanks to a freakish incident that seriously damaged the pitch.

Play was due to start at 9.30, half an hour early, to make up for time lost on the second day. All was normal as the time approached, with the ground staff rolling the pitch and the players practising on the outfield. Then Zimbabwe's Trevor Gripper unleashed a well-timed drive that sent a practice ball scudding on to the pitch - right in the path of the roller.

The operator had no time to stop, and a split second later the ball lay embedded in the pitch - short of a length to a left-hander at the City (southern) end of the ground. The dent was about an inch deep, and any ball pitched in it could fly anywhere, an obvious danger if bowled at speed.

Fortunately the Royal Harare Golf Club adjoins the ground, and an urgent request was made to borrow an auger, with the idea of lifting out the damaged area and replacing it with a similar piece from just behind the stumps. After all, if entire pitches are transported these days, why not a small fraction of a pitch?

Robin Brown, the HSC groundsman and a former Zimbabwe opener from the eighties, was in charge of operations. Wisely he wanted to be sure it would work before risking the operation on the troublesome area in mid-pitch, so he tried it first behind the stumps and then in the middle of the pitch, but at the side. After all, the pitch here was much harder and drier than anything likely to be found on the golf course.

When this was successful, the final operation on the damaged portion of the pitch was made. With a bit of cleaning up, the area was invisible and appeared to be thoroughly firm. Gundappa Viswanath, the match referee, gave the go-ahead, and play finally started two hours late. If any ball was pitched on that particular spot during the day, it was not obvious.

"It was a brilliant piece of work, you couldn't tell the difference," Gavin Johnstone-Robertson, assistant manager of Harare Sports Club, said. "We're going to coat the offending piece of turf in resin and keep it for posterity.