March 26, 2000

Zimbabwe in West Indies: Uphill battle

After the euphoria of last Monday's Great Escape at the Queen's Park Oval, stark reality returned to West Indies cricket after two days of the second Test against Zimbabwe.

Twice they have held the initiative against their plucky, but limited, opponents. Twice, they have lacked the resources and the self-belief to retain it.

This time, two of the heroes of Port-of-Spain and so many Tests besides, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, suddenly looked their age and the batting looked as lacking in technique and confidence as usual.

Likely to have to chase a target on the last day on a hard, bare pitch that will progressively wear, they face a potentially difficult fight over the remaining three days.

With their last specialist batsmen in and only wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs and the negligible fast bowlers left, they ended yesterday 108 for four replying to Zimbabwe's 308, their first total over 300 in 12 Tests.

Zimbabwe showed characteristic spunk to achieve their position, even in the absence of their main strike bowler, Heath Streak. He was kept on the physio's table with back muscle spasms throughout the West Indies innings that has laboured for 58 overs and included a revealing 24 maidens.

There is no Shoaib Ahktar, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne or even Andy Caddick in their attack, but they could have been bowling hand-grenades for all the respect they were given by the timid West Indian batsmen.

The absence of Brian Lara is having an understandable effect but there is an overall lack of enterprise that is depressing.

The contest was evenly balanced when play resumed with Zimbabwe 220 for five. They had broken free of the grip of 40 for three at the first lunch break through the positive partnership of 166 between the century-maker, Murray Goodwin, and captain Andy Flower, but had again been shackled when the two were dismissed off successive balls in the closing overs of the opening day.

Heartened by their aggression and late swing on the previous afternoon, Jimmy Adams again preferred his younger fast bowlers, Reon King and Franklyn Rose, to his two stalwarts. The ball was only ten overs old and still hard and shiny and King and Rose tightened the screws again with compelling fast bowling of a full-length and direct line.

The captain kept them going for 21 overs together as they looked certain to limit Zimbabwe to a total of around a manageable 250.

Both swung the ball late and sharp, Rose especially, and looked likely to take a wicket almost every ball.

King did take three to add to his two of the previous day and return his first five-wicket haul in his fifth Test - five for 51 from 23 overs.

Only temporary cramp held him up for any time before he finally came off.

He had the left-handed Alistair Campbell lbw, playing uncertainly from the crease, in his second over, scattered Streak's stumps with a fast, straight one and had the swinging Bryan Strang spectacularly taken, high above his head, by the leaping Ridley Jacobs.

Rose's only success was the nightwatchman Brian Murphy, bowled by a leg-stump yorker. He deserved more.

When Adams finally summoned his tried and trusted stalwarts, neither could make an impression as Carlisle and Olonga comfortably accumulated their runs, frustrating not only the West Indians on the field but the 12 000 jammed into Sabina Park ready to witness Walsh create history.

Olonga thumped the shot of the match, an extra-cover driven boundary off King, and it was 25 minutes into the final session before Walsh had Strang caught behind for his 432nd Test wicket.

Now there are only three more to go to pass Kapil Dev's record but, on this evidence, Walsh must surely consider his future after that.

The crowd's noisy exuberance of the morning had subsided by the time the West Indies replied and it remained muted as the inadequate batsmen battled to come to terms with their own limitations and the discipline of the Zimbabwean bowling.

The standard for the struggle was set by the immobile left-handed opener Adrian Griffith.

Out for a first-over pair to Streak in the first Test, he was so overcome by wariness that he spent an hour-and-a-half and 74 balls over four scoring shots for six.

The Zimbabweans could sense the tension in their opponents' brittle batting that they dismissed for 187 and 147 in the first Test and that is bereft of any class player now that Brian Lara is taking his disruptive sabbatical.

The Zimbabweans pinned them down to fewer than two runs an over and, for long periods, stalled them completely. Of the 58 overs, 24 were maidens.

Wickets were the inevitable consequence.

Essaying a rare attacking stoke, Griffith dragged one from Neil Johnson back into his stumps and trudged off as if carrying the world on his shoulders. His successes in New Zealand now seem eons ago.

He was replaced by Chris Gayle, in his first Test on his home ground.

He started with a thumping off-driven boundary off leg-spinner Murphy but edged his 35th ball to wicket-keeper Andy Flower off Henry Olonga, as he seemed likely to do throughout his stay.

Sherwin Campbell, the only right-hander in the first seven in the order, showed some aggression with nine boundaries in 48 before he was brilliantly taken at slip at 85, cutting Murphy.

The catcher was his namesake Alistair, who had missed a far easier offering off Johnson when he was 16.

The score hadn't moved for another 32 balls when Andy Flower was again called into action to gather in Shivnarine Chanderpaul's snick in the fifth of five successive maidens of Bryan Strang's accurate, but gentle, left-arm swing. It has become a familiar method.

Captain Adams and his fellow left-hander Wavell Hinds batted through to stumps but they were no more convincing than those who had preceded them.