Rain on Zimbabwe's parade
Close Zimbabwe 507 for 9 dec and 94 for 4 lead West Indies 335 (Hinds 79, Ganga 73, Price 6-73) by 266 runs
Ray Price: three important wickets which turned the game Zimbabwe's way
Weather permitting, there could be a good finish to the first Test at Harare tomorrow, after an absorbing if rain-affected fourth day's play. After taking a 172-run lead, Zimbabwe struggled in their second innings, but will still be aiming for a declaration before lunch on the final day before trying to bowl West Indies out a second time. The man of the fourth day was left-arm spinner Raymond Price, who took six wickets - a career-best - in West Indies' first innings.
Heath Streak had started the day under overcast skies with his spinners, Price and Trevor Gripper. Price was really the key man, as he had already troubled the batsmen the previous day. The pitch was certainly taking more spin than is usual here but, although Shivnarine Chanderpaul didn't bother to protect Vasbert Drakes, the batsmen survived easily enough. Streak eventually took the second new ball at 270 for 6 after 83 overs, and shared it with Blessing Mahwire, perhaps to sting the pride of Andy Blignaut who was unimpressive yesterday.
Streak, who was bowling very well, had a close lbw appeal against Drakes rejected by Simon Taufel. But the breakthrough finally came when Chanderpaul (36) moved too far across his stumps to Streak, overbalanced, and was struck by a full-length ball. This time Mr Taufel agreed that it would have hit the stumps (290 for 7).
Drakes upped a gear after the loss of his senior partner, but it didn't pay off - he drove uppishly at Price, sent a simple catch to mid-off and departed for 31. That made it 294 for 8 - a dozen runs still needed to avoid the follow-on, with only three genuine rabbits to do it.
Amid great tension, Jerome Taylor finally did the trick with a full-blooded mow against Price that shot past square leg and took the score to 309. Later in the same over he edged one to slip and departed for 9 (309 for 9). Lunch came shortly afterwards, with the last two batsmen still together. In all they survived for 51 minutes, either side of the interval, before Price finally had Fidel Edwards caught at mid-off for 19. Price ended up with 6 for 73, to improve his Test-best figures for the second match running.
Zimbabwe thus claimed a first-innings lead for the first time in 13 Tests, and a sizeable one too. Vusi Sibanda soon showed his talent, driving Edwards for two successive textbook fours past mid-off in the fourth over, but as so often lost his wicket after a good start. Actually he was a little unlucky, as it took a good sharp catch by Daren Ganga at square leg to send him packing for 16. Trevor Gripper hadn't managed to get off the mark at that point (21 for 1), and it was to take him 30 minutes to do so.
Worse was to follow for Zimbabwe, as Mark Vermeulen, who never looked comfortable, failed to get over a lifter from Edwards and edged a catch to third slip. He departed for 2 (27 for 2). Edwards and Corey Collymore had transformed from frustrating batsmen to dangerous bowlers, but nonetheless Zimbabwe were not batting with the confidence and purpose their strong match position deserved. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by the novelty of it all.
Shortly afterwards, rain drove the players from the field and an early tea was taken. On their return, 95 minutes later, the batsmen battled for survival against sharp bowling from Edwards and Drakes, who eventually removed Carlisle for 10, lbw to a sharp offcutter (60 for 3).
In came Craig Wishart, to make the game look easy with his meaty drives, played with time to spare. Seldom if ever has he looked so confident and purposeful in a Test, but that does not necessarily mean much, as he needs to convert good starts into major innings. He lost Gripper for 26 after a 137-minute innings, another trapped lbw by Drakes's offcutter (90 for 4).
Wishart continued to look almost majestic, purring to 25 not out from 34 balls, but the light was fading and he and Stuart Matsikenyeri eventually accepted the umpires' invitation to leave the field, with the lead an imposing 266. Much will depend on Wishart on the final day: perhaps he will finally play the major Test innings of which he is capable.