September 16, 2000

Kiwis produce chance almost out of nothing

It may have been headed for the gold medal as the dullest Test match of the year, but New Zealand's fightback with both the bat and ball may yet produce one of the more exciting finishes.

Actually achieving a result at all in the first Test at Bulawayo would still be a significant achievement.

Outstanding as New Zealand's recovery was, after losing Chris Cairns so early on the fourth day, to finish only 12 runs behind Zimbabwe, it went back into the field without one of its key weapons in Daniel Vettori.

His absence is a tragedy, not only for what's left of this Test, but possibly in the longer term this summer. Vettori has borne a tremendous workload since his Test debut. He has carried that willingly, and with such competitive spirit, that it has to be hoped his body is not showing the side effects of that.

But even with a back problem to contend with, Vettori summed up his superb approach by going out with a runner and scoring 49 vital runs. His 78-run stand with Adam Parore for the ninth wicket may yet prove crucial to the final outcome of this game.

Clearly, the wickets of Andy Campbell and Heath Streak are now vital to New Zealand's hopes. If they can do what they did in the first innings then Zimbabwe will be safe.

But on the other hand, if New Zealand can separate them quickly, the stable door will be wide open.

That would still require the New Zealand batsmen to pass the Paul Strang test. It used to be that whenever someone took a 10-wicket bag for New Zealand, and it was usually Richard Hadlee, then New Zealand would win another Test.

With eight wickets to his credit, the New Zealand top order, in the event of a realistic run chase being on, would need to bear in mind the requirement to play Strang sensibly, watch for the googly, and not help him create mayhem and turn the 10-wicket adage back onto New Zealand.

New Zealand and Australia may have their sporting minds diverted at the moment to the spectacle that is the Olympic Games in Sydney, but for all that, a big night of television channel switching seems assured in Kiwi homes tonight as the progress against Zimbabwe is monitored.

Could it be that what for three and a half days seemed an uninspiring cricket Test is about to produce the summer's first golden moment for New Zealanders?