March 19, 2000

Flower power

Port-Of-Spain - The West Indies all but let the first Test slip from their grasp yesterday.

Once more obliged to defend an inadequate first innings total, they had dropped the opposition's captain and best batsman twice on the second day and proceded to put him down twice more.

The left-handed Andy Flower duly made the most of the let-offs - and a lucky umpiring break before he had scored on Friday - to accumulate a determined, unbeaten 113 and lead Zimbabwe to a total of 236 and a lead of 49.

It threatened to be substantially more until Chris Gayle, an unlikely destroyer with his steady off-breaksanddrifters, despatched three of the last four wickets that fell for four runs to round off another entralling, if rain-shortened, day reduced to 52 overs by two early interruptions.

The pitch, slow from the start, is still in relatively good shape but can be expected to be increasingly inconsistent in bounce. A winning last day target of anything over 220 would not be straightforward but it means the West Indies have to total at least 280 batting a second time, not a figure they have consistently managed of late.

Zimbabwe would have been nowhere without their solid captain and the largesse of the West Indian fielders.

Jimmy Adams at gully and substitute Ricardo Powell at third slip had missed just possible chances on the previous afternoon with Flower 14 and 38.

The morning was only a few minutes old when he had his third life. A wicket had fallen in the first over on each of the first two days but Shivnarine Chanderpaul at third slip broke the sequence, missing a catch high to his right off Courtney Walsh's fourth ball before Flower had added to his overnight 52.

He had scored only eight more when Gayle at first slip, possibly put off by wicket-keeper Ridley Jacob's initial movement, let an easier edged offerring off Curtly Ambrose burst through his grasp immediately on resumption from the second break for rain.

Flower had also gained umpire Steve Bucknor's favourable verdict the previous day on a palpable catch at the wicket off the glove from Walsh before he had made a run but such alarms never distracted him from his purpose.

He is by no means a fluent strokemaker and, with its edges and misses, this was a resolute, rather than classical, innings. Yet the Zimbabwean's record cannot be questioned. This was his seventh hundred in his 40th Test and only Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh and Saeed Anwar of contemporary batsmen can claim a higher average than his 46.

Flower'soff-side strength was evident by the accumulation of 11 of his 12 boundaries between third man and mid-off.

It was, in the real sense of the term, a captain's innings.

He entered just before tea on the second afternoon in the potential crisis of 27 for three and shared two vital partnerships.

He and the right-handed opener Trevor Gripper extended their fourth-wicket stand from 82 at the start to 117 before a slip catch finally stuck, allowing the persevering Curtly Ambrose to dislodge Gripper for 41 that occupied five-and-a-quarter hours and 212 balls.

Ambrose immediately found another outside edge on the other side to remove the inform left-hander Alistair Campbell, second ball, to Jacobs' low catch and bowled Stuart Carlisle with a breakback in the last over before tea with Zimbabwe still 23 short of the modest West Indies effort.

It seemed the West Indies had seized the advantage, especially as the second ball was taken immediately on resumption. But they suddenly and inexplicably went flat.

Their earlier unstinting efforts had sapped the energy of Ambrose and Walsh, Reon King posed few threats through a spell of ten consecutive overs and with Franklyn Rose off the field for a treatment to a toe injury, Flower and Heath Streak were able to bat comfortably in a stand of 68 that lasted just under two hours.

Faced with such realities, Jimmy Adams opted for defensive tactics and turned to the off-spin of Gayle in the hope of a bonus wicket.

The 20-year-old Gayle has proved a valuable find in his debut Test.

He batted confidently for 33 on the opening day, seems settled at first slip inspite of his miss and now had Streak neatly taken by Campbell at slip, edging a drive at a ball that floated away.

In the next over, Rose, back after a precautionary check at a clinic, had a deserving wicket, Brian Murphy lbw, and Gayle cleaned up things by bowling Henry Olonga and Pom Mbangwa with successive balls.

Flower walked wearily off, disappointed that his dedication had not created a more favourable position.

He was followed by Adams and his team, all of whom must be aware that there is still a lot of cricket left in the match.