September 15, 2000

Opportunity lost as Strang takes over

Nathan Astle's 'dismissal' said it all about New Zealand's first innings on day three in the first Test against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo.

All the signs before the Test were of a confident batting unit looking to impose itself on its opposition, not only in Zimbabwe but through the rest of a summer in which it will face South Africa, Zimbabwe again, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

But the old cliches, about 'best laid plans' and all that, can still be undone in cricket by what former Kiwi batting great Glenn Turner used to describe as "outside influences", or those factors over which the player has no control.

In Astle's instance it was a judgement by umpire Russell Tiffin of his being caught behind by Andy Flower from Paul Strang's second ball after the dismissal of Kiwi captain Stephen Fleming.

From a position of developing strength, the Black Caps were facing their executioner, a short, back-from-injury leg-spinner in the shape of Paul Strang.

As a distraught Astle stood at the crease coming to terms with his fate he could possibly have been thinking that the sooner video technology was employed in decision-making the better for all concerned. He might also have been thinking what a jolly fine bowler Strang was, and still is.

But it can be safely assumed that Mr Tiffin would be wasting his time if he ventured to his letter box on a daily basis expecting a Christmas card from Astle.

Strang did exploit a tentativeness among the New Zealanders in their handling of his variations, particularly his googly. His recovery from a wrist injury will no doubt be welcomed by Zimbabwe which needs him as a foil to pace man Heath Streak and an example to what is clearly an impressive group of developing bowlers.

His six wicket haul was just reward for the indecision he created among all who faced him. He clearly has a lot more influence to cast before this Test, and series, is finished.

Just which way the Test now heads could depend on what sort of mood Chris Cairns wakes in this morning. If he's at his most competitive, and can get full support from Adam Parore and Daniel Vettori, there will be a lot of batting left in the New Zealand innings.

However, if Zimbabwe is able to get a breakthrough and a comfortable lead, then there could yet be some fascinating last day activity. Though to give themselves a chance of setting New Zealand a big enough target, the Zimbabwe batsmen will have to bat at a much faster clip which means taking more risks.

And for the Kiwis there is the need to come to grips with Strang's leg-spin, before the second Test and the One-Day Internationals coming up.