September 14, 2000

Third day will tell all for Kiwis

Just how expensive will Zimbabwe's last 50 runs prove in New Zealand's bid to win the first Test in Bulawayo?

The runs, and the time involved after Zimbabwe was 300 for eight, may be the difference should New Zealand get itself into a position of strength by scoring a big total quickly enough to attempt to bowl Zimbabwe out a second time.

And there's no guarantee of that happening with the side finishing the second day at 62 for two.

The fact that Matt Horne is unbeaten on 40 puts the onus on him to produce his best Test score since his maiden Test century at Lord's midway through last year.

Another factor is the opportunity the match situation provides captain Stephen Fleming to score a long-awaited third Test century. He is such a capable batsman, and so attractive to watch when in full-flight, that a national sigh of relief will be breathed when he gets over the hurdle that has seen him score 24 half centuries but only twice reach three figures.

All that lies ahead however, as New Zealand firstly needs to consolidate its overnight position before attempting to launch a full-scale assault on the Zimbabwe total. That's where Horne, Fleming, Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan come into the picture.

Collectively, they represent an attacking force capable of doing the job but as yet they have lacked the consistency for New Zealand fans to assume that the logical will happen as of right.

Paul Wiseman's achievement in taking his second five-wicket bag in Test matches is an encouraging development. He's lifted his Test tally of wickets to 29 and, more importantly, is making headway in getting his average out of the 40s and down to 37.41.

There's still a way for him to go but every Test he plays in partnership with Daniel Vettori helps to develop a spin option that has been lacking for too long in the New Zealand game. Not since John Bracewell and Stephen Boock were occasionally working in unison has this been a factor in New Zealand's Test match approach.

The benefits are not only applied to the Test scene either. With two international quality spinners appearing, albeit occasionally, in domestic cricket, more batsmen are exposed to playing class slow bowling.

The fact that Zimbabwe, under pressure, has produced such a competitive total also highlights how little there is between the greater percentage of teams on the Test scene at the moment. Alistair Campbell stepped up at precisely the right time for his side and produced an innings of substance while Heath Streak marked his captaincy regime in the perfect style with 51 runs.

The challenge for New Zealand to quell that Zimbabwean spirit is obvious and the third day will tell all.