March 20, 2000

West Indies on brink

Port-Of-Spain - Overcome as much by the collective negativity that has enveloped every aspect of their cricket for so long as by the discipline and fierce competitiveness of their opponents, the West Indies are on the brink of their latest humiliation.

After struggling un-convincingly for four days to repeatedly retrieve desperate situations, they start the final day of their inaugural Test against Zimbabwe at the Queen's Park Oval this morning in a forlorn position.

Their already brittle batting, further weakened by the self-imposed exile of Brian Lara, who has watched the familiar ignominy unfold from the distance of the stands, had collapsed yet again to 147 for nine when fading light ended the day six overs short.

Subtracting the first innings deficit of 49, the West Indies begin this morning 98 ahead with two of Test cricket's most authentic non-batsmen, Reon King and Courtney Walsh, together.

It leaves Zimbabwe with little more than a formality to achieve a deserving and convincing victory, only their fourth in their 40 Tests since they became the last team to achieve the status in 1992.

Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh - and, on one famous occasion against India in Bridgetown, Franklyn Rose - have so often conjured up the impossible that a sensational last day is not out of the question. But it would be a miracle.

Throughout another rain-shortened day, Zimbabwe maintained the pressure they had exerted from the first over of the match with varied, controlled bowling and sharp fielding.

They are the two departments of the game in which the gap between the teams has been most pronounced.

Faced with the modest deficit when they began their second innings, the West Indies' shaky self-confidence was immediately undermined by Heath Streak. The burly fast bowler dismissed the left-handers Adrian Griffith, for his second nought of the match, lbw on the backfoot as he was in the first innings, and Chris Gayle, bowled off the inside-edge, with the third and fourth balls of the morning without a run scored.

They also lost opener Sherwin Campbell, run out by a slick piece of fielding by Murray Goodwin at short-leg when still 12 behind.

A fourth-wicket partnership of 78 between Shivnarine Chanderpaul and new captain Jimmy Adams delayed the eager Zimbabweans for any length of time after that, but neither was allowed to break free on a slow, wearing pitch ideally suited to the opposition attack.

Their stand occupied 2-1/2 tortured hours either side of a lunchtime rain interruption of an hour and 35 minutes, but seldom an over went by without an lbw appeal, a missed stroke or a streaky edge.

Maiden after maiden was played out as Zimbabwean captain Andy Flower alternated his bowlers. Streak and Henry Olonga provided the thrust, Pom Mbangwa the accurate medium-pace that conceded 15 runs from 15 overs, and Bryan Murphy, leg, and Grant Flower, orthodox left-arm, the spin.

Once Adams' vigil ended with a catch driven to cover off Olonga to be out for 27 (119 balls without a single boundary) and Chanderpaul was the third of four Streak victims in the next over, lbw on the backfoot for 49 (169 balls with five fours), the resistance ended.

Four wickets fell for four runs as Jacobs was lbw to Olonga without scoring and Ambrose prodded a catch to silly point off Murphy.

A stand of 23 between Wavell Hinds, featuring a clutch of extras, helped extend the meagre West Indies total in the gloom of an overcast evening, but neither could last until their light meters told umpires Steve Bucknor and George Sharp it was time to leave.

Rose edged Streak's outswinger to the keeper and Hinds was the second victim of Zimbabwe's brilliant fielding. Trying for a second run on a fine sweep off Murphy to keep the strike, he was beaten by inches by Olonga's rapid return to wicket-keeper Flower from 60 yards out.

This was a rare situation the Zimbabweans were obviously not going to let slip.