Bichel breaks last strands of Zimbabwe defiance

Close Australia 735 for 6 dec beat Zimbabwe 239 and 321 (Streak 71*, Vermeulen 63, Ervine 53; Bichel 4-63) by an innings and 175 runs

It took longer than Australia would have wanted, and there was another rain interruption, but Andy Bichel finally broke Zimbabwe's stubborn last-wicket stand of 74 runs to give Australia victory by an innings and 175 runs. Steve Waugh held the catch at mid-off to end Ray Price's innings for 36.

Heath Streak, the Zimbabwe captain who was 71 not out, and Price had the satisfaction of avoiding their worst-ever defeat - against South Africa by an innings and 219 - and the minor enjoyment of setting a record partnership for the last wicket at the WACA, when they passed the 66 set by Derek Pringle and Norman Cowans for England in 1982-83.

Minor statistics and weather watching were about the only things breathing life into the match on its last morning. Streak took his chances well in a last show of defiance, and in the process, he gave his top order an example of the sort of steel that will be necessary in Sydney during the second Test.

Both batsmen had lives however. Price was given not out to a caught-and-bowled appeal off Darren Lehmann's bowling when on 26, while four balls later Brett Lee had Streak play the ball onto his stumps only to be denied by a no-ball call for overstepping the mark.

It was fitting that Bichel picked up the last wicket, and finished with four, as he had consistently looked the most likely of the bowlers in the depleted Australian attack. He proved his value as a reliable go-to man when the side was struggling.

But no matter what else happened on the final day, it was never going to prevent this match being forever remembered as Matthew Hayden's match, a legacy of his world-record innings of 380 runs. The record books will bear testament to Hayden's feat of concentration as much as to his unrelenting power.

But it will also highlight the state of Test cricket at this time, where lesser nations like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are ill-equipped to compete with the more established sides. It has to be remembered that Australia went into the Test without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, and had to do without Stuart MacGill and Jason Gillespie for almost the entire duration of Zimbabwe's second innings.

Zimbabwe, not overly blessed with cricket resources at the best of times, had to do battle without Andy Flower and Henry Olonga - both have chosen not to play for the country - Grant Flower, injured before the tour began, and players from their recent past like Guy Whittall, Paul Strang, Alistair Campbell and Murray Goodwin.

Magnificent as Hayden's innings was, each bowler in the Zimbabwe line-up conceded 100 runs, and the fear for Zimbabwe going into the second Test is whether it will all happen again. Having achieved a score of such magnitude in the first Test of a six-Test summer, it remains to be seen whether Hayden can maintain the appetite for runs.

With Bangladesh also struggling at Test level, there has to be twice the chance that the longevity of Hayden's tenure at the top will be less than expected. It could disappear as quickly as the second Test in Sydney, or when England do battle in Bangladesh.

Zimbabwe did offer some hope for their own future. Sean Ervine shaped up as a solid allrounder who, with more exposure, could become a useful acquisition for the side. His batting in the second innings where he scored 53, his first Test half-century, should have had the middle order squirming in their seats.

Mark Vermeulen was another who looked capable of a lengthy association with the side and he was desperately unlucky to be given out caught for 63, his highest Test score, when it apppeared the ball had glanced his shirt rather than his bat. And Craig Wishart's first innings dismissal for 46 showed that his earlier form on the tour had been no fluke. But until the bowling attack shows more venom, all the runs in the world are going to be of little benefit to the Zimbabwe. Difficult times are likely to continue.